David Driesen Comments on the EPA vs. California Fuel Standards Controversy

Posted on Thursday 8/9/2018
David Driesen

Trump’s Assault On Auto Pollution Rules Is The Latest Salvo In A War On States’ Rights

(Huffington Post | Aug. 9, 2018) In February 2016, Republicans prevailed over a regulation a top GOP coal advocate once called the “death of federalism” when the Supreme Court granted a stay blocking President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The move handed a victory to the oil and coal industries who, backed by their patrons in 27 Republican-dominated states, had sued in what Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy called a 27-state “revolt” against “illegitimate abuse of power.” 

Two years later, Republicans control every branch of the federal government, EPA leadership has passed from one of the attorneys general who led that lawsuit to a former coal lobbyist who advocated for it, and President Donald Trump is working to dismantle any regulation that stands in the way of transforming the United States into a booming petrostate ― even if that means trampling on states’ rights in the process. 

On Thursday, Trump administration launched its most ambitious assault on state environmental regulations yet with a proposal to revoke the federal waiver that lets California set stricter automobile pollution standards than the rest of the country ― a rule that 13 other states follow. The move came as part of the White House’s announcement of a plan to gut an Obama-era rule requiring vehicles sold in the U.S. to double their fuel mileage by 2025, a plan that would have slashed oil consumption by an estimated 12 billion barrels. Without the rule, the American vehicles are expected to spew an additional 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2030 ― equivalent to the entire annual emissions of Canada. 

“There’s not an ideological push here, there’s just, ‘We’re going to do whatever industry wants, and if Obama did anything, it’s bad and we’ll undo it,’” Christine Todd Whitman, the EPA administrator under former President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003, said in a phone interview. “I don’t think the president has thought through what used to be a basic principle of Republicans, and that’s states’ rights" ...

... It’s difficult to say whether the Trump administration can legally rescind the California waiver. A report New York University School of Law released Wednesday argued the EPA lacks the legal authority to withdraw the waiver. No president has ever tried. And, according to David Driesen, an environmental law professor at Syracuse University, arguing that the state’s CO2 rules don’t meet the standards set out in the Clean Air Act is “just not a plausible argument.” 

“California does have compelling and extraordinary conditions,” he said. “There are wildfires, and if the heat goes up in California, they have more severe local air pollution exacerbated by the heat, so it just doesn’t wash.”

The new EPA proposal accounts for the climate change, but notes that “EPA believes that any effects of global climate change would apply to the nation, indeed the world, in ways similar to the conditions noted in California.” 

“EPA does not believe that these conditions, mentioned above, merit separate GHG [greenhouse gas] standards in California,” the proposal reads. “Rather, these effects, as previously explained, are widely shared and do not present ‘unique problems’ with respect to the nature or degree of the effect California would experience" ...

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