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  • The Los Angeles skyline shrouded in pollution in 1975 and more recently. (Photo: M&P Collage)

    A Trump Administration regulation designed to preempt greenhouse gas emissions and Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standards in California has drawn 24 states into a legal fight to have the move declared illegal.

    In all 12 states, including California have received exemptions from federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations so they can enact tougher standards for automobile emissions.

    The cities of Los Angeles and New York and the California Air Resources Board are also plaintiffs in the suit, filed against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

    “There is no legal rhyme or reason for the Trump Administration to revoke states’ right to set their own standards,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James, one of 24 state attorneys general who have joined in the litigation.

    The waiver to EPA regulations, allowing states to set their own standards was granted in 2013 during the Obama administration.

    “The Trump Administration’s latest misguided and illegal action ignores settled law and fundamental principles of federalism,” said Basil Seggos, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

    Under the federal Clean Air Act, California may apply for a waiver from EPA to set its own vehicle emissions standards that are at least as protective as the federal government’s standards. EPA is required to approve the waiver, unless it makes certain findings.

    Other states then have the option to adopt California’s standards. From the beginning, New York and nearly a dozen other states have adopted California’s greenhouse gas standards.

    The standards have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by hundreds of thousands of tons annually, encouraged the development of emission controls technologies, and paved the way for stronger federal standards,” according to a statement.

    California’s program combines the control of smog-causing pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions into a single coordinated package and improves air quality and curbs greenhouse gas emissions.

    On its own, the California program would reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the state by approximately 14.4 million metric tons a year by 2025 and 25.2 million metric tons a year by 2030.

    When accounting for emissions savings from other states that have adopted California’s standards, these emission reductions nearly triple. In New York, the standards would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 6.2 million metric tons a year by 2025, and 10.2 million metric tons a year by 2030.

    Ironically, the Trump administration’s assertion that state standards are preempted by the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) have been repeatedly rejected by multiple courts.

    NHTSA oversteps its authority and ignores Congress’s careful and repeated preservation of state authority with respect to this matter, James said in the statement.

    Joining in filing the lawsuit are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia;

    Key Points of State Legal Challenge
    States are asking the court to strike down the regulation as unlawful on the basis that NHTSA:

    • Purports to exercise authority that Congress has not granted the agency: namely, to decree what EPCA does or does not preempt;
    • Imagines an inherent conflict between two sets of rules, California’s GHG and ZEV standards and NHTSA’s fuel economy standards, that have co-existed for years and that the Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA has said can be harmonized;
    • Willfully misreads EPCA as preempting state emission standards it explicitly directed NHTSA to account for, and as implicitly repealing portions of the Clean Air Act;
    • Ignores the authority and intent of Congress, which has repeatedly reaffirmed and embraced California’s authority over the last four decades;
    • Flouts the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to assess or analyze the damage that the agency’s Preemption Rule will inflict on the environment and public health;
    • Acts arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to explain about-faces from its previous positions or its reasons for acting;
    • Fails to respect states’ authority to protect public health and welfare;
    • Disregards the role these standards play in helping California and other states meet EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards.