EPA, Calif. trade blame in heated exchange

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, October 29, 2018

EPA and California are quarreling in public again.

Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler and top Golden State regulators separately accused each other of stalling progress in negotiations over clean car standards, escalating the battle over the Trump administration’s plans to roll back Obama-era auto rules.

“EPA has pledged to work in earnest with California to reach a 50-state solution as we take comments on the new proposal for vehicle emission standards,” Wheeler said today in a confrontational news release.

“I had the opportunity to meet with CARB [California Air Resources Board] Chairwoman Mary Nichols in July where she promised to submit a counter-proposal from California,” he said. “It has been 10 weeks and the Trump Administration has still yet to receive a counter-proposal.”

It was an unusually personal rebuke for Wheeler, a soft-spoken former industry lobbyist who is more muted in his public speeches.

Nichols, a tough negotiator known as the Golden State’s “queen of green,” wasn’t having it.

At a press conference in Sacramento this afternoon, Nichols blasted the Trump administration for refusing to budge during the negotiations.

“The administration has not moved off of their initial position, which is to completely freeze the standards at 2020 levels,” Nichols said. “They have shown no interest in any of the suggestions that we’ve made.

“Going back as far as the beginning of the year, they had indicated that they wanted to work with us on coming up with a proposal,” she said. “To this day, they have not shared the data or the modeling that they used in developing the current proposal.”

The Trump administration in August proposed freezing fuel economy requirements at 2020 levels through 2026, rather than increasing their stringency each year as President Obama had envisioned (Greenwire, Aug. 2).

Nichols also had a chilly relationship with former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned in July under a crush of ethics allegations.

Last spring, Nichols slammed a meeting she had with representatives from the White House, EPA and the Transportation Department on Twitter (Greenwire, May 25).

“Sounds like a great meeting based on the WH press release,” she wrote. “Too bad it’s not the one we attended.”

The White House had described the meeting as “productive.”

‘One-man demolition derby’

Also speaking at today’s press conference in Sacramento were California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D).

Becerra, who has filed dozens of lawsuits to block actions by the Trump administration, compared the car rules negotiations to high-stakes poker.

“It’s not just the issue of climate change that’s in the ballots; it’s also the health of the American people,” Becerra said.

“Climate change is a crisis,” he added. “You don’t respond to a crisis by waiting six years to act.”

Brown was even more blunt.

President Trump is a “one-man demolition derby,” Brown said. “He’s destroying the Paris Agreement, he’s destroying a nuclear safeguards agreement, and now he’s destroying standards on vehicle emissions. It’s crazy. It will not stand. He will be out of office long before this law reaches the final determination in a court of law.”

The deadline for commenting on the Trump administration’s proposal to dial back the car rules was Friday night.