White House considers splitting rollback — report

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Trump administration is reportedly planning to split its rollback of Obama-era clean car standards into two components.

The first component would revoke California’s legal authority to set emissions rules tougher than the federal government’s. The second would freeze fuel economy standards at 2020 levels through 2026, rather than increasing their stringency each year as President Obama had envisioned.

A source with knowledge of the situation confirmed the administration was working on bifurcating the proposal, a move first reported by Politico, which cited an anonymous White House official.

The White House declined to comment.

The Clean Air Act has historically granted California a waiver to set tailpipe pollution standards that exceed those of the federal government. Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia have adopted those tougher rules.

EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are in the process of drafting a proposal that would withdraw California’s Clean Air Act waiver, according to the source with knowledge of the situation.

The two agencies could submit the proposed rule to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs as soon as tomorrow, the source said.

Separately, the administration continues to work on a more complicated plan to freeze fuel economy requirements at 2020 levels through 2026. That plan will likely take longer to complete.

Why the White House would make such moves is unclear, but observers say the decision to fast-track the withdrawal of California’s waiver comes as retaliation against the state whose Democratic leadership has sought to thwart President Trump’s deregulatory agenda.

California air regulators angered Trump this summer by signing a deal with four major automakers to improve fuel economy in the coming years, regardless of the rollback (Greenwire, July 25).

“I don’t know how much of this is strategic and how much of this is wanting to go ahead and make a statement about where they stand on California,” said Dan Farber, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Others have suggested the administration may be seeking to make the rollback more legally defensible.

But environmentalists counter that the proposal won’t hold up in court, regardless of whether it’s split into two parts.

“If the administration is going to take two actions that run counter to the law, it doesn’t matter if they do that in one rule or two,” said Ben Longstreth, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Both will be challenged in court, and both will be tossed out.”

Trump met in the Oval Office this afternoon with General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra. The two reportedly discussed issues including trade and fuel efficiency standards at the closed-press gathering.

A GM spokeswoman declined to comment on the meeting.