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California Heads For Showdown With Trump EPA Over Fuel-Efficiency Standards


The Trump administration formally unveiled new fuel economy rules this morning. It's proposing to freeze the standards instead of increasing the restrictions annually as the Obama administration had originally planned. States including California vow to fight the new rules. From member station KQED in San Francisco, Lauren Sommer has this report.

LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: California and the Environmental Protection Agency have been headed for an epic environmental showdown, and today the administration threw down the gauntlet. It wants to freeze fuel economy standards at about 37 miles per gallon until 2026.


ANDREW WHEELER: The proposal will save a thousand lives per year, which I think is very important.

SOMMER: That's Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaking before the U.S. Senate yesterday. He says rolling back Obama standards will also reduce the cost of cars.


WHEELER: It's my goal, it's the administration's goal to come up with a 50-state solution.

SOMMER: Wheeler is talking about California and its special power to set its own tougher car emissions rules. Automakers don't want to have to meet two different sets of standards. And Simon Mui of the Natural Resources Defense Council says they actually want fuel economy to go up.

SIMON MUI: The automakers are going to be facing years of uncertainty, right? Their investments in fuel-efficient technologies are now in question.

SOMMER: Twelve other states have adopted California's car standards, too. They say those rules also save lives because of reduced air pollution. California has had its standards for decades, a power granted by Congress. But the state has to get permission or a waiver from the EPA to do it. The Trump administration says it wants to revoke that, something that's never been done. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said today the state is not backing down.


XAVIER BECERRA: California will protect its waiver to continue to lead the fight to have cleaner air and cleaner-burning vehicles.

ANN CARLSON: I think California is in good legal shape.

SOMMER: Ann Carlson is professor at the UCLA School of Law. She says under federal law, California can set its own car emission rules if it can show it's trying to fix extraordinary conditions.

CARLSON: We've had extraordinary droughts. Right now we're facing two huge wildfires in the state. We've had heat waves.

SOMMER: California will be trying to prove that in court. And the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that greenhouse gases should be regulated like any other pollutant coming from cars. It'll be a legal showdown unless the state, the administration and automakers can reach an agreement before then. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Sommer in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Sommer covers climate change for NPR's Science Desk, from the scientists on the front lines of documenting the warming climate to the way those changes are reshaping communities and ecosystems around the world.