WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is moving forward with a proposal to revoke part of California’s authority to set its own automobile gas mileage standards, a government official said Thursday, confronting a state that has repeatedly challenged the administration’s environmental rollbacks.
The Environmental Protection Agency was preparing paperwork for the White House for the move, meant to help the administration set a single, less rigorous mileage standard enforceable nationwide, according to the official, who is familiar with the regulatory process and spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been made public.
Administration moves to rescind authority that Congress granted probably would end up in court. When President George W. Bush challenged California’s greenhouse gas emissions and mileage-setting ability, California fought it. The Obama administration subsequently dropped the Bush effort.
The Trump plan would have to be posted in the Federal Register and would be subject to public comment.
His administration has tried to ease or remove scores of environmental regulations that it regards as unnecessary and burdensome. The tougher mileage standards were a key part of the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce climate-changing fossil fuel emissions.
California has sued the Trump administration 27 times on environmental matters alone, often as part of a group of states. Counting preliminary injunctions, California has won in court 19 times, said Sarah Lovenheim, a spokeswoman for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
Becerra, a Democrat, made clear his state would battle this move as well. “California will continue its advance toward a cleaner future. We’re prepared to defend the standards that make that promise a reality,” he said in a statement.
EPA officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The mileage move would target California’s half-century-old authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own, tough tailpipe emission standards, which are closely linked to fuel efficiency.
California’s long struggles with smog mean the state has been setting its own standards since before the 1970 law was written. Congress allowed California to seek waivers from the national standards for that reason.
About a dozen states have opted to follow California’s pollution and mileage standards.
The waiver has allowed California, the state with the highest population and by far the biggest economy, to steer the rest of the nation toward cutting down on car and truck emissions that pollute the air and alter the climate.
Margo Oge, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality from 1994 to 2012, said the Trump administration is likely to lose in a court challenge of California’s powers.
“There is nothing under the Clean Air Act that allows the EPA to revoke a waiver that was given to the state,” she said. “They cannot do that, in my view, based on 20 years managing the program.”
The Trump administration has proposed freezing gas mileage requirements for automakers at 2021 levels, thus eliminating Obama-era regulations that require them to rise about 5% per year on average for the fleet of new cars sold in the U.S. A final proposal is expected next month.
Trump’s own administration, in documents proposing to freeze the standards, puts the cost of meeting the Obama-era requirements at around $2,700 per vehicle. It claims buyers would save that much by 2025, over standards in place in 2016. But that number is disputed by environmental groups and is more than double the estimates from the Obama administration.
Consumer Reports found that the owner of a 2026 vehicle will pay over $3,300 more for gasoline during the life of a vehicle if the standards are frozen at 2021 levels.
Many in the auto industry don’t like the far tougher Obama-era mileage standards and fear it won’t be able to meet them, as U.S. consumers keep shifting away from sedans to less-efficient trucks and SUVs. Most automakers favor increasing mileage requirements at a lower rate than set under President Barack Obama. They also want one U.S. standard to avoid having to engineer separate vehicles for California and the states that follow its rules.
In July, four automakers — Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen — broke from the rest of the industry and struck a deal with California agreeing to 3.7% increases in mileage per year. That’s less than the 5% annual increase under the Obama-era standards.
The side deal has irked Trump, who has chastised Ford in tweets.