Wehrum, Nichols huddle ahead of high-stakes auto efficiency decision

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, March 30, 2018

Top officials from U.S. EPA and California met face to face this week as the agency and the Golden State appear ready to brawl over climate rules for cars.

Bill Wehrum, EPA’s air chief, met with Mary Nichols, the chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, on Tuesday in California, according to ARB spokesman Stanley Young. It was the latest in a series of meetings to negotiate changes to Obama-era targets for limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars made from 2022 to 2025.

California has had no input into the Trump administration’s document explaining EPA’s intent to reverse course on the Obama targets, Young said, and the Wehrum meeting this week did not change that. The draft decision is under review at the Office of Management and Budget. The administration is facing an April 1 deadline to make its decision, and the document is expected to be released publicly by next week.

EPA is expected to decide that the Obama-era targets for 2022 to 2025 are “inappropriate” and propose revisions in the months to come, according to people familiar with the draft decision. That would force a split with California, which has vowed to use its special “waiver” authority under the Clean Air Act and require cars meet the Obama rules in 13 states that have signed on to its program. The fight could lead to a drawn-out legal battle over states rights’ and environmental protection.

“We are troubled about the rumors that the EPA has found the standards to be too aggressive and that they need to be weakened,” said Young. “We have not seen the document in question.”

Wehrum has tried to strike a conciliatory tone, participating in talks with California. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has had tougher words for the state. He told Bloomberg that California should not “dictate” car rules to the rest of the country and that it is not the “arbiter” of the issues. Some saw that as a threat to California’s waiver.

Pruitt was also in the Golden State yesterday. He did not hold a meeting with Nichols.

Yesterday, Pruitt toured the March Air Force Base Superfund site and a major almond processing facility in Turlock. He also talked with farmers, according to EPA. The agency said the visit was part of his effort to repeal and replace the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. rule.

Conservatives want waiver repealed

Meanwhile, the battle of the vehicle rules is heating up. A group of 11 conservative groups urged Pruitt to repeal California’s Clean Air Act waiver in a letter yesterday.

The letter argues that the White House should pre-empt California because the Energy Policy and Conservation Act makes setting fuel economy targets the job of the federal government. It also complains that California is using its Clean Air Act waiver to replace gasoline-powered vehicles with electric ones and channeling taxpayer money toward that goal.

“The American people deserve better, and, if you do not act fast, come April 1, people across the state of California will be facing unrealistic and costly mandates which threaten their basic right to choose,” the letter says.

The signatories of the letter include representatives from the American Consumer Institute, Less Government, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, American Commitment, FreedomWorks, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, the 60 Plus Association, Frontiers of Freedom, and the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.