EPA vs Calif; Welcome to Pollution Limbo

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Well, the Trump Administration has gone and undone it – revoked California’s right to set its own tougher-than-federal rules limiting vehicular pollution.

I say the state’s “right” because it was, in fact, a right granted by an act of Congress and upheld several times in court.

To be sure, the right is the right to seek a waiver from the EPA, based on a finding that Californian has unusually poor air quality and needs the tougher rules to help keep its citizens breathing.


For decades, those waivers have been granted like clockwork. Visit the state’s central valley, or Southern California San Bernardino, on a warm summer’s afternoon and you’ll see why. Actually, there are days when you won’t see, or be able to breathe very well. The smog will be too thick.

The state’s air quality regulators estimate that about 12 million Californian’s breathe unhealthy air every day and that air pollution is a major killer in the state, responsible for thousands of deaths each year from various respiratory diseases. Much of that pollution comes from automobiles, buses and trucks.

In a 1970 update of the federal Clean Air Act, Congress awarded California the right to set its own tighter-than-federal emissions goals in order to help resolve its pollution woes.

The law also gave other states the ability to adopt California’s standards if they felt federal standards were insufficient for their own air quality needs.

That doesn’t seem to register with the present occupant of the White House, though. Or with the sycophant he’s got running the EPA.

These days it seems that the administrative branch of the federal government gets to do pretty much what it wants – pending the outcome of any lawsuits filed to stop it – as there is no real legislative oversight. The GOP-controlled Senate has shown itself unwilling to do anything that might make the president angry and the Democrat-controlled House can’t act alone.

But if you believe states ought to have the ability to act to protect their citizens’ health when the federal government doesn’t, take heart.

The EPA’s decision to lift California’s clean air waiver will be challenged in court and everything will be put on hold – pretty much maintaining the status quo until it is all litigated.

The Trump Administration’s attacks on clean air – if successful – might just leave this country an automotive backwater, choking on the tailpipe excreta of gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups and smoke-belching diesel trucks no other country will tolerate.

Automakers won’t like that – they want to have a nice system with just one set of rules to follow. Witness the recent deal California cut with several major car companies in the wake of the EPA’s moves to roll back the emissions and fuel efficiency goals established in the Obama Administration.

Whatever the U.S. is up to with its infatuation with SUVs and gasoline engines, the rest of the world is moving on. America’s automakers have to adapt to continue playing on the world stage.

That could take more years than the Trump Administration has left. A new president and her -or his – new EPA administrator likely would revoke the order stripping California of its right to seek a waiver to set its own emissions rules.

If not, then the litigation process continues. That likely will end in California’s favor as well.

The ultimate decider, the Supreme Court, while now controlled by a conservative majority, still seems more likely to uphold legislative intent and states’ rights (wasn’t that a conservative thing?) than to give in to a mercurial president’s whims.