Sep 19, 2019 - Energy & Environment

How the Trump-California auto emissions fight captures the essence of 2019

President Trump

Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service/VCG/Getty Images

President Trump's effort to yank California's power to impose vehicle carbon emission rules that are tougher than federal standards is very of-the-moment.

Driving the news: EPA this morning announced that they’re indeed revoking California’s waiver, stating it’s needed to ensure “there will be one, and only one, set of national fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles.”

  • EPA said the move won't scuttle California's ability to carry out programs that address other forms of tailpipe pollution.
  • Yanking the waiver is a precursor to rolling back the Obama-era emissions and mileage mandates.
  • Read EPA's summary here.

The big picture: Here's my scientific analysis of the reasons why the wider battle over vehicle emissions and mileage rules captures the zeitgeist of 2019...

  • It's important: Transportation has overtaken electricity production as the biggest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • It's messy on K Street: Like a number of Trump moves, the business community reaction is conflicted and complicated. In this case, automakers don't like the related White House effort to freeze Obama-era emissions and mileage mandates. They chafed at the Obama rules but say Trump's plan goes too far. The powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce agrees with the automakers.
  • It's political and cultural too: The move is the latest salvo in the wider White House battle with America's most lefty state. As Axios' Mike Allen noted yesterday, Trump is at war with California over the environment, homelessness, tax returns, immigration and more.
  • It's on Trump's phone: He announced the move on Twitter before his own agencies unveiled the plan (though to be fair this has previously surfaced in draft form).

The intrigue: EPA boss Andrew Wheeler this morning left open the possibility that when his agency and the Transportation Department finalize their rules, there might be some increases as opposed to an outright freeze at 2020 levels.

  • “We have not made a final decision yet on what the standards will be,” he said at a press conference, adding, “The final will not look exactly the same way that we proposed it.”

Go deeper: This Politico story unpacks Trump's claims about the vehicle safety and emissions effects of the administration plans.

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