The White House said Thursday it cut off talks with California over a proposed rollback of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards, a move hailed by conservatives as pro-consumer and criticized by liberals worried about climate change.
The Trump administration said the California Air Resources Board failed to offer a “productive alternative” to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles rule, which would raise mileage requirements for cars and trucks through 2020 but freeze them after that.
“Accordingly, the administration is moving forward to finalize a rule later this year with the goal of promoting safer, cleaner and more affordable vehicles,” the statement said.
The EPA announced plans last year to ease fuel economy and tailpipe emission standards designed to cut down on greenhouse gases. The Obama administration’s standards set a target for cars and trucks of 50 miles per gallon by 2025. The agency said it wanted mileage to rise to an average of 37 mph by 2026.
Democrats and advocacy groups said the administration’s announcement is likely a sign that the EPA plans to revoke California’s authority to set its own, stricter air pollution standards for vehicles under the Clean Air Act in 1970.
“It signals President Donald Trump’s determination to undo the standards — which have saved consumers more than $70 billion at the gas pump and cut dangerous climate pollution — and revoke the California waiver, which allows that state, 13 others and the District of Columbia to protect their citizens from harmful tailpipe pollution,” Public Citizen said in a statement.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, went a step further by accusing Mr. Trump of deliberately picking fights with her deep blue state.
“The administration’s decision follows a troubling pattern of targeting the state of California for political purposes,” she said. “I will continue to fight for California’s ability to set its own stringent emissions standards that will clean our air and preserve our environment for future generations.”
The announcement comes two days after the administration said it plans to cancel $929 million awarded to California’s high-speed rail project and wants the state to return $2.5 billion of federal money that it has spent on the project.
Mr. Trump also has been feuding with California officials over forest management practices, threatening to cut off emergency federal aid unless they get wildfires under better control.
The state has sued the administration over numerous Trump policies, including his emergency declaration over the southern border, sanctuary cities, ozone rules and the effort to ban transgender troops. The cases thus start in the West Coast’s liberal 9th Circuit, where the president laments that he rarely receives a fair shake.
Supporters of the administration’s move on fuel efficiency argued that it will result in more affordable vehicles for consumers. Patrick Hedger, director of policy at the FreedomWorks Foundation, said the move “opens up the path towards modifying the EPA’s existing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to better protect Americans on the roads and produce more affordable vehicles.”
“In the end, more affordable vehicles mean the average passenger vehicle fleet will be more efficient as Americans are more likely to move on from their older and less efficient cars. This is a win-win,” he said.
Mr. Hedger said no state “should have the ability to unilaterally decide vehicle fuel standards for the rest of the country, especially a state such as California which has some of the most unnecessary and burdensome standards in the nation.”
The EPA and the Transportation Department said the proposal will help to boost auto sales by lowering prices of lower-mileage trucks and SUVs at a time when gasoline is relatively cheap.
Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the breakdown in talks between the administration and California increases the likelihood of a lengthy court battle.
“Litigation is not the best option here,” Mr. Carper said in a statement. “It wastes time, money, creates uncertainty for American automakers and harms the environment. I encourage automakers to speak out quickly, loudly and clearly against this decision.”
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