Trump admin says car roll-back lawsuits are premature

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, April 10, 2019

It’s too early for critics to sue the Trump administration over its rollback of Obama-era clean car rules, lawyers for the administration told a federal court yesterday.

The rulemaking process “should be allowed to run its course” before states and environmental groups bring legal action, the government lawyers wrote in a brief.

At issue is a lawsuit from states, environmental groups and others challenging the Trump administration’s initial decision to soften the Obama-era car rules.

Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the decision last spring, saying the standards had been deemed “inappropriate” and needed to be loosened (Greenwire, April 3, 2018).

States and environmentalists pounced on Pruitt’s announcement, known formally as the “Midterm Evaluation Final Determination.” They argued that EPA had violated its own statutes and had failed to provide a reasonable explanation for its about-face.

EPA tried to have the case dismissed last year, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rebuffed the agency’s attempts.

Lawyers for the Trump administration told the court yesterday that the case shouldn’t move forward before the rollback has been finalized. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said last week that he expects to issue a final rule in late spring or early summer (Greenwire, April 4).

“Petitioners raise claims that are not prudentially ripe for review,” the Justice Department lawyers wrote. “EPA is in the midst of a rulemaking to revise the emission standards at issue. … EPA expects to conclude that rulemaking later this year.

“The administrative process should be allowed to run its course prior to judicial review of a preliminary decision that will soon be moot,” the lawyers said.

In addition to arguing that litigation is premature, government lawyers contended that states and greens lacked standing to bring the suit and could not demonstrate “imminent” harm from Pruitt’s final determination.

California

The rollback of Obama-era clean car rules stands to set up a lengthy legal battle with California.

That’s because the Trump administration is proposing to revoke California’s Clean Air Act waiver for greenhouse gases. The waiver allows the state to set more stringent tailpipe emissions rules than the federal government.

Yesterday’s brief contained some particularly harsh words for the Golden State, which was a party to the suit.

The statute for evaluating the car rules “does not codify any commitment to California or provide the State with legal rights beyond those held by other stakeholders,” the brief says.

“Thus, while California might disagree with the Determination, that disagreement does not distinguish the State from any of the other Petitioners, all of whom lack standing,” it says.

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