California sues over plan to scrap car emission standards gastric sleeve scars

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At issue is a move by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to roll back 2012 rules aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Under those rules, vehicles would have to get 36 miles of real-world driving per gallon (58 kilometers per gallon), about 10 miles (16 kilometers) over the existing standard.

"Pollutants coming out of vehicles, out of the tailpipe, does permanent lung damage to children living near well-traveled roads and freeways. This is a fact. The only way we’re going to overcome that is by reducing emissions," Governor Jerry Brown said in announcing the lawsuit along with other top California Democrats.

Pruitt, who has sought to block or delay an array of environmental regulations, has argued that assumptions about gas prices and vehicle technology used by the Obama administration to set the standards were too optimistic. And he said the standards would hurt automakers and consumers who can’t afford or don’t want to buy vehicles that are more fuel-efficient.

At issue is a move by Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt to roll back 2012 rules aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Under those rules, vehicles would have to get 36 miles of real-world driving per gallon (58 kilometers per gallon), about 10 miles (16 kilometers) over the existing standard.

“Pollutants coming out of vehicles, out of the tailpipe, does permanent lung damage to children living near well-traveled roads and freeways. This is a fact. The only way we’re going to overcome that is by reducing emissions,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in announcing the lawsuit along with other top California Democrats.

Pruitt, who has sought to block or delay an array of environmental regulations, has argued that assumptions about gas prices and vehicle technology used by the Obama administration to set the standards were too optimistic. And he said the standards would hurt automakers and consumers who can’t afford or don’t want to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles.

California has a unique waiver that allows it to set its own tailpipe emissions standards for vehicles, which it has used to combat smog and, more recently, global warming. Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia have adopted the California standards as their own.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Joining California were Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia and the District of Columbia. All have Democratic attorneys general.

A proposal that’s reported to be floated by the Trump administration would freeze the mileage rules at the 2020 level through at least the 2026 model year. The new rules would also preempt California and other states that have voluntarily set higher mileage standards.

“The Trump administration’s plan to roll back our clean car and fuel economy standards will produce regulatory pandemonium, not regulatory certainty, for America’s auto industry,” said Luke Tonachel, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Clean Vehicles and Fuels Project. “NRDC stands with California and the other states representing 140 million Americans in challenging this brazen attempt to gut standards that safeguard our health and our climate and save consumers billions of dollars at the pump.”

The fuel-economy rules at issue were enacted in 2012 and began taking effect with the 2017 model year. They called for ramping up from the current fleet-wide average of about 35 miles per gallon for cars and trucks, to more than 37 miles per gallon in 2019 and nearly 39 miles per gallon in 2020. The eventual goal of between 50 and 52.6 miles per gallon was set for 2025.

The CAFE rules, intended to reduce dependence on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gases, were put in place by the Obama administration when gas prices topped $4 per gallon. Automakers have since argued that the rules are too stringent, and drivers have demonstrated in recent years that they are less interested in fuel-efficient cars and electric vehicles with gas prices that are now around $3.

“Such a proposal, if finalized, would harm U.S. national and economic security, undermine efforts to combat global warming pollution, create regulatory and manufacturing uncertainty for the automobile industry and unnecessary litigation, increase the amount of gasoline consumers would have to buy, and runs counter to statements that both of you have made to members of Congress,” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Pruitt and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Automakers have argued the mileage rules are too stringent because car buyers have demonstrated a strong preference for SUVs and pick up trucks now that gas prices have fallen. They also say the Obama administration reneged on a promise to review the gas mileage rules in 2018 after they voluntarily agreed to them in 2012.

Under the Obama administration’s rules, automakers would have faced fines of $5.50 for each one-tenth of a mile-per-gallon their average fuel economy falls short of the standard for a model year, multiplied by the total volume of vehicles sold.

Karl Brauer, executive publisher for Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, said the lawsuit may have been a gambit by states that are angry with the Trump administration’s decision to reopen debate about the mileage rules to gain sway in upcoming negotiations.

“These 17 states represent a huge portion of the total U.S. car market, and they clearly feel they can influence any decision related to these CAFE requirements,” he said. “It could be another legal thorn in the Trump administration’s side, but ultimately I think the government has the legal ability to determine these standards, even at the state level.

“Most legal experts, without a political ax to grind, agree the shortened review period by the Obama administration violated the original spirit of the CAFE agreement,” Brauer continued. “There’s no clear winner in this legal debate – except, as always, the lawyers.”