White House Signals Legal Fight with California on Emissions

February 22, 2019 at 12:26 AM

The Trump administration confirms it has officially ended negotiations with the California Air Resources Board about coordinating emission standards.

Instead, the White House says it will finalize a rule later this year that freezes future carbon dioxide standards in 2020. CARB has vowed to enforce the tougher standards currently in place through 2025, regardless of what federal regulators do.

The Trump administration aims to thwart California’s plan by separately stripping the state of its decades-old right to set its own emission standards. The move is certain to trigger a protracted legal battle that both sides say they are confident in winning.

The court fight will center on fuel economy standards, which may be established only by federal regulators. California has been permitted to set its own emission (but not fuel economy) standards by the Clean Air Act of 1970.

The distinction between the two regulatory domains was clear until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that may be regulated. CO2 is a byproduct of fossil fuel combustion, so limiting CO2 emissions creates a de facto fuel economy standard.

The Trump administration argues that CARB cannot set CO2 limits that would force carmakers to meet greater fuel economy standards than those set by federal regulators.