PD Editorial: Allow California to keep tougher fuel standards

The Trump administration wants to undercut California’s vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency standards. Add this issue to the growing list of policies the state should vigorously oppose.

Since the Clean Air Act was signed into law in 1970, California has led the nation in setting strict fuel economy standards for automobiles. Because of California’s notorious air quality issues, the state was allowed to set its own, more stringent standards than the federal government’s.

Later, other states adopted California’s standards. Twelve states and the District of Columbia have done so - meaning that automakers must meet California’s standards to sell to one-third of the domestic market for cars and trucks.

This situation has allowed California to better protect its citizens from the harmful effects of auto emissions and encouraged carmakers to improve their products for the rest of the nation as well.

Most would consider that a win-win situation, but not Scott Pruitt, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who seems opposed to his agency’s core responsibility. During an interview with Bloomberg TV, Pruitt complained that California had too much influence over car emissions.

In 2012, California worked with the Obama administration to develop joint standards to reduce vehicle emissions that contribute to climate change. Pruitt complained that California’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions “shouldn’t and can’t dictate to the rest of the country what those levels are going to be.”

But the states that have voluntarily adopted California’s stricter standards continue to support California’s leadership role. “We’ve come a long way together,” Steven Flint, the director of the air resources division of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, told the New York Times.

Trump promised to loosen the 2012 fuel efficiency standards, which call for a target of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

California, though, has no intention of weakening its standards. The state Air Resources Board voted last year to keep the 2025 standards where they were. “All of the evidence - call it science, call it economics - shows that if anything, these standards should be even more aggressive,” said board member Daniel Sperling, a transportation expert at UC Davis.

If California keeps its standards, any benefit to the auto industry from Trump’s loosening of the national standards would, of course, be blunted. But the benefits to the nation and the world from keeping the higher standards are real. The 2025 standards are forecast to reduce America’s oil consumption by 12 billion barrels and prevent six billion metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution.

The auto industry, which has rebounded from a near collapse during the 2008 financial crisis, previously supported the standards. But now with a regulation-hating Trump in the White House, they are calling for the rules to be “reassessed.”

Loosened standards could save the auto industry money but could lead to the American industry falling behind in innovation in the global market. Other countries are demanding cleaner, more efficient vehicles.

It isn’t clear how far the Trump administration is willing to go in fighting California. Legal action would almost certainly result if it tries to strip the state of its Clean Air Act waiver - an unprecedented move. But Pruitt dismissed California officials’ suggestions of a compromise that would involve weakening 2025 standards in exchange for establishing national limits out to 2030.

California should stand strong, both for its residents and the rest of the nation.

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