Trump admin might ‘attack our authority’ — top California regulator

Source: Debra Kahn, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, January 8, 2018

California and the Trump administration are clashing over their approaches to regulating automobile emissions, the state’s top air regulator said yesterday.

California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols sounded a “note of alarm” yesterday over the state’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set stricter-than-federal vehicle emissions standards. She also said the state’s work on a court case against an unnamed automaker was being jeopardized by federal opposition.

Under Trump, U.S. EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are considering whether to decouple federal fuel economy standards from California’s for model years 2021 to 2025. Talks with California began last fall; a decision is expected by April (Greenwire, Nov. 6, 2017).

Nichols indicated that the range of outcomes is still wide open and could include EPA refusing to issue waivers for California to pursue standards for future model years or even rescinding the current waiver for the existing standards, which 13 other states have also agreed to.

“While we continue to seek a productive working relationship with the federal government … the Trump administration may choose not to approve our waivers,” she told state lawmakers at an oversight hearing on the state’s climate change policies, “or even attempt to attack our authority altogether.”

She also indicated that discussions with the federal government are relatively inactive. “I think right now we’re suffering, or maybe we’re benefiting, from a bit of benign neglect,” she said. “We’re not hearing anybody coming in and saying, ‘You can’t do it.'”

Nichols also said the federal government is backing away from the type of settlement that it reached with Volkswagen AG last year and in 2016 over cheating on emissions tests. Volkswagen’s penalties included a fund for states to pay for nitrogen oxide emissions reductions to offset the damages from the company’s vehicles. The Trump administration has resisted that approach in a similar, pending case against another automaker, Nichols said.

“We’ve been told the Justice Department has said they don’t want to do those types of settlements in the future,” Nichols said. “We will not be getting the same amount of help and collaboration with the Trump administration that we did in the past.”

The Justice Department sued Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV in May 2017 for using illegal software that increased the emissions of 104,000 diesel vehicles. EPA said the automaker used “defeat devices” to cheat regulations. The automaker has denied wrongdoing.

Reporter Camille von Kaenel contributed.