Just one day after Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the agency did not have plans “at present” to target California’s special fuel economy waiver, the Trump administration announced that it would be putting a six-year hold on Obama-era standards for fuel efficiency, starting in 2020, while at the same time revoking California’s waiver to set its own standards.
The move undercuts the Obama administration’s attempt to rein in carbon emissions from the transportation sector, and tees up a fight between the federal government and a state that has challenged Trump’s deregulatory agenda at nearly every turn.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the EPA plans to submit a draft for fuel economy targets to the White House within the next few days. Pruitt had previously announced that the agency was reconsidering the Obama administration’s fuel economy standards, which dictate how much a car can emit.
The EPA administrator had previously hinted at the possibility that the EPA could revoke California’s fuel economy waiver, which allows the state to set its own, more stringent requirements for vehicles. But during Thursday morning’s hearing, Pruitt told lawmakers that the EPA was not “at present” planning to challenge California’s waiver.
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.
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.
Beyond revoking California’s waiver, the EPA plan would also freeze fuel economy standards for six years starting in 2020 — a serious decrease from the Obama administration’s rule, which called for automakers to make cars with an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Automakers have been critical of the Obama era rule, and environmental and energy groups have accused Pruitt of siding with the auto industry over public health and the environment.
“These roll-backs from Scott Pruitt mean Americans will pay more at the pump while our air gets dirtier, just so Pruitt can help the corporate lobbyists and polluters who give him favors and marching orders,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement after the EPA initially announced its intention to revisit the Obama-era fuel efficiency standards. “Pruitt cannot deny the fact that these widely-supported clean car standards will drive down pollution and cut costs for Americans at the pump.”