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EPA’s Pruitt says ‘California is not the arbiter’ of the nation’s emissions standards

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt questions states’ powers to enact emissions rules. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said Tuesday that EPA is not planning to set stricter fuel economy standards beyond 2025 and questioned whether states such as California should be able to enact their own tougher emissions rules for cars and light trucks.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV, Pruitt said that California — which has a waiver under the 1970 Clean Air Act giving it authority to set its own auto emissions standards — cannot dictate vehicle emissions across the country. The Obama administration reached a 2009 deal with California and the auto industry that set the first carbon limits on tailpipe emissions.

In 2012, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a part of the Transportation Department, adopted rules requiring cars and light trucks to average 54.5 miles per gallon overall by 2025. President Trump and Pruitt announced last year that they would revisit the emission standards for model years 2022 to 2025, and EPA must announce by April 1 whether those limits can be attained or should be changed.

“California is not the arbiter of these issues,” Pruitt said. While California sets state limits on greenhouse gas emissions, “that shouldn’t and can’t dictate to the rest of the country what these levels are going to be.”

Officials in California, who are crafting their own vehicle standards through model year 2030, have suggested that they might be open to relaxing their 2025 standards in exchange for the federal government agreeing to establish national emissions limits that extend to 2030. But in his interview Tuesday, Pruitt indicated he had no interest in such a deal.

“Being predictive about what’s going to be taking place out in 2030 is really hard,” he said. “I think it creates problems when you do that too aggressively. That’s not something we’re terribly focused on right now.”

EPA officials said they had no further comment beyond Pruitt’s remarks.

A few weeks after Trump’s inauguration, automakers urged the new administration to reassess the 2022-2025 fuel economy standards, arguing that a midterm review the EPA completed just before Obama left office had been rushed. Speaking in Detroit to autoworkers nearly two months later, Trump said he viewed more ambitious fuel-efficiency rules as an impediment to U.S. automakers.

“We’re going to work on the standards so you can make cars in America again,” he told them. “We’re going to help the companies, and they’re going to help you.”

Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers spokesman Wade Newton said in an email Tuesday that the industry wants “a proper midterm review — one that lets the facts dictate the outcome.”

“We’re not prejudging it,” said Newton, whose members include foreign and domestic manufacturers that produce 70 percent of the cars and light trucks sold in the United States. “Automakers are committed to higher fuel economy with more choice in fuel-efficient models, while also providing even safer, more environmentally friendly, affordable vehicles to Americans.”

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) warned Pruitt in a statement that there is strong legal precedent for California and other states setting their own fuel economy standards. During the George W. Bush administration, more than a dozen states and the District adopted California’s tailpipe emissions rules as their own.

“Despite his oil-soaked proclamations, the ultimate authority on fuel-economy emissions standards is not Scott Pruitt, it is the Clean Air Act,” Markey said. “Since the passage of the Clean Air Act, over 100 waivers have been issued to California for vehicle emissions. None has ever been rescinded. Scott Pruitt and his oil industry allies might not like the law, but they have an obligation to follow it.”

And Stanley Young, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, said in an email that the state is moving ahead with tighter emissions limits for cars and trucks built after 2025.

“Our comprehensive analysis shows that the technology for [electric cars and other low-emissions vehicles] is both feasible and appropriate,” Young said. “Given this compelling need to protect public health, California will continue with development of post-2025 vehicle standards — to ensure we reach our air quality and climate goals and to align with plans by car manufacturers to significantly increase production of electric cars.”

In June, Pruitt told a House panel that the administration was not considering revoking California’s waiver to set auto emissions standards.

“Currently, the waiver is not under review,” Pruitt testified, adding, “This has been something that’s been granted going back to the beginning of the Clean Air Act because of the leadership that California demonstrated.”

Read more:

Automakers ask EPA to overturn stricter fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks

Pruitt vows not to revoke California’s Clean Air Act waiver

Even in Trump’s America, California could decide how clean your car runs