Wheeler same as Pruitt on car rules — Calif. official

Source: Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2018

California’s top air regulator doesn’t see much of a difference between EPA’s new boss and the old one on climate policy.

Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, described her meeting yesterday with EPA acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler as “pleasant” but said she fundamentally sees little difference between him and his predecessor, Scott Pruitt.

Her comments come at a sensitive time between California and EPA. California officials have locked horns with the Trump administration over its proposal to roll back the clean car standards implemented under the Obama administration.

Nichols described Wheeler as “gracious” and said the pair agreed to cooperate after sharing their histories and observations of EPA. But she made it clear that a gulf remains between California and the Trump administration.

“In terms of if there is a difference between Wheeler and Pruitt on these issues, I have yet to see any,” Nichols said. “It’s not better or worse; it’s the same.”

Still, Nichols made clear that she welcomes an end to the controversies that dogged Pruitt.

“There are fewer distractions,” she said. “Personally, as someone who has worked on air issues for many years, I’d rather talk about technology than what the guy puts on his face in the morning.”

Among the litany of scandals that embarrassed Pruitt was one involving him asking his security detail to search for his favorite moisturizing lotion.

Nichols and Pruitt met late last month in San Francisco to discuss greenhouse gas standards for light-duty vehicles. Much of her conversation with Wheeler on Tuesday was limited to pleasantries, she said.

“He is really just getting briefed up on these issues,” Nichols said. “In his time as deputy, he was clearly not working, and he said he had not been working on most of the issues that are most important to us.” Wheeler was deputy administrator until he took the reins of the agency last week in the wake of Pruitt’s resignation.

California has special authority under the Clean Air Act to set vehicle emission standards. The Obama administration agreed to boost U.S. tailpipe standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025, aligning federal standards with California’s. The move amounted to one of the most consequential climate policies of the Obama administration. It was estimated that the rule would have cut oil consumption by roughly 12 billion barrels over its lifetime.

But EPA has targeted the standards under Trump, with the administration arguing that the regulations are unduly burdensome for automakers. That has produced the prospect of a split in the U.S. vehicle market, with California and roughly a dozen states that have adopted its rules imposing one set of emissions rules while the remainder of the country abides by a less stringent standard.

Asked if California has a backup plan should negotiations with EPA fail, Nichols replied, “The backup plan is divorce. I don’t mean we’re going to secede from the Union. We will reassert our Clean Air Act authority and move forward with our program, possibly with some improvements. We will do that, and if EPA tries to block us, we’ll be in court. Everyone is trying to avoid that, mostly because we don’t think it’s good for the industry or the consumers.”

EPA’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.