California’s top air quality regulator mocks Trump’s negotiating style

Discussions on weakening nation's fuel-efficiency standards off to rocky start.

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols and California Gov. Jerry Brown speak at press conference on May 1, 2018, about the state's lawsuit against the EPA over its efforts to weaken or freeze fuel economy improvements in cars,. CREDIT: Screenshot/Office of governor of California
California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols and California Gov. Jerry Brown speak at press conference on May 1, 2018, about the state's lawsuit against the EPA over its efforts to weaken or freeze fuel economy improvements in cars,. CREDIT: Screenshot/Office of governor of California

California’s top air quality official disputed claims that she and Trump administration officials held “productive” discussions this week on vehicle fuel efficiency standards.

A White House statement made it sound like California had a good series of meetings on Wednesday with Trump administration and auto industry officials. “Today’s conversations between administration officials and the California Air Resources Board were productive,” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation said in a joint statement.

But California Air Resources Board (CARB) Chair Mary Nichols appeared to disagree.

“Sounds like a great meeting based on the WH press release. Too bad it’s not the one we attended,” Nichols, the long-time head of CARB, tweeted Thursday. “To quote the president on cancelling his planned summit with Kim Jong-un, ‘If and when (@USDOT & @EPA) choose to engage in constructive dialogue and actions, I am ready.’”

The EPA and Transportation Department are moving ahead with a joint proposal to weaken federal auto-efficiency rules. As it puts together new rules, the Trump administration is holding discussions with California officials so that fuel-mileage and emissions standards are part of a national program with consistent requirements.

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Nichols reportedly met with Trump’s new energy adviser, Francis Brooke, and representatives of the Department of Transportation and the EPA on Wednesday. At the meetings, though, the only agreement reached was to hold additional meetings, a CARB spokesperson told Bloomberg.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in April that Obama-era regulations to boost fuel efficiency to roughly 50 miles per gallon on average by 2025, developed in close cooperation with California, are too aggressive and need to be revised. The administration also is considering revoking California’s ability to set its own vehicle efficiency standards.

Because California’s economy is so large, the state’s stricter fuel efficiency standards have forced automakers to design cars that fit within the state’s standards. More than a dozen other states have also adopted California’s more stringent standards. Even if California goes it alone, it accounts for 12 percent of auto sales.

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Pruitt — who championed federalism during his time as Oklahoma attorney general and has made “cooperative federalism” a tenet of his time at the EPA — has said in the past that “California is not the arbiter” of pollution rules for the nation.

California has only seen its authority to set its own fuel economy standards revoked once since the passage of the 1970 Clean Air Act. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has vowed to fight any attempts to revoke California’s clean air waiver in court. California recently joined over a dozen other states in suing the EPA over its plans to rollback the auto emission standards.