Calif. sues Trump admin over withheld documents

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, April 8, 2019

California Friday filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Trump administration, accusing the federal government of withholding the analysis underpinning its rollback of Obama-era clean car rules.

The suit, filed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) on behalf of the California Air Resources Board, alleges that EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration failed to release the key documents in a timely manner.

At issue are the underlying data and analysis for the administration’s proposal to freeze fuel economy requirements at 2020 levels through 2026 and preempt California from setting tougher tailpipe pollution rules than the federal government.

CARB filed a FOIA request for those documents in September 2018, but NHTSA “withheld information with inadequate justification or no justification at all,” the office of California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said in a news release today.

The air board appealed NHTSA’s determination in December but has not heard back from the agency.

In a statement, CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols accused the Trump administration of withholding the documents because they would reveal an unsound justification for the rollback.

“Since releasing the proposed rule last summer, the Trump administration has repeatedly failed to comply with California’s FOIA request, and the reason is clear: They are unwilling to admit that the facts and analysis simply do not support their desired outcome,” Nichols said. “This lawsuit will break down their silence and secrecy.”

The lawsuit comes the day after EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said at the Washington Auto Show that he hopes California doesn’t sue the agency over the car rules rollback (Greenwire, April 4).

“I hope … they realize that this is the best regulation for the country as a whole and that they don’t sue us,” the EPA chief said. “That would be my ultimate hope.”

Environmentalists pounced on the timing. “This comes just a day after EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said he hoped California officials ‘don’t sue us’ over the rollback of current, Obama-era clean car standards,” Climate Nexus said in a news release today.

EPA doesn’t comment on pending litigation. A DOT spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment this afternoon.