Chao, Wheeler call out California over environmental efforts

Two of President Donald Trump’s cabinet officials criticized California’s environmental record Thursday as the state and the administration are in a pitched battle over the authority to set vehicle emission standards.

“No state has the authority to opt out of the nation’s rules and no state has the right to impose its policies on everybody else in our whole country,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told reporters, discussing the administration’s plans to revoke California’s authority to set vehicle emission standards.

“To do otherwise,” Chao continued, “harms consumers and damages the American economy.”

The state’s Clean Air Act waiver allowed it to set vehicle emission standards that are more stringent than the federal standards. Because more than a dozen states have signed on to California’s levels, they became the de facto nationwide standards. The Trump administration is in the process of relaxing federal emission standards set by the Obama administration, but for those to be controlling, needs to also eliminate the California levels.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters Wednesday — soon after Trump announced the plans — that the President is motivated by a “unique frustration with California.”

“We’re winning. That’s the frustration he’s having — we are winning,” Newsom said, referring to the state’s multiple legal battles with the administration. “He’s losing, and we’re winning because we have the law, science and facts on our side.”

“We have not only the formal authority, we have the moral authority, and that is something missing in this White House,” Newsom added.

California has been a persistent thorn in the administration’s side, including on environmental and immigration issues.

At the Thursday morning event, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler took California to task for having “the worst air quality in the United States.”

“It has 82 non-attainment areas and 34 million people living in areas that do not meet the NAAQS standards,” Wheeler said, referring to areas of the Golden State that do not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. “That’s more than twice as many people as any other state in the country. We hope that the state will focus on these issues rather than trying to set fuel economy standards for the entire country.”

“California cars have no closer link to California climate impacts than do cars on the road in Japan or anywhere else in the world,” he added.

Wheeler said the revised federal standards are still in development but will be announced in the coming weeks.

“We are looking at all the options right now,” he said. “We have not made a final decision yet on what the standards will be.”

EPA General Counsel Matthew Leopold told reporters after Wheeler’s remarks that the administration anticipates litigation over the standards. He said the official action revoking California’s authority will likely be published in the Federal Register next week and take effect 60 days later.