Environment

Is Trump White House blinking on clash over California’s clean air rules?

California, Trump could fight over auto pollution standards

Former California state Senator Fran Pavley, a pioneer in climate change legislation, talks about the potential rollback of federal standards for greenhouse gas emissions.
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Former California state Senator Fran Pavley, a pioneer in climate change legislation, talks about the potential rollback of federal standards for greenhouse gas emissions.

California’s air pollution standards are the toughest in the nation, for a reason: More Californians breathe dirty air than people elsewhere in the country.

Now the Trump administration appears to be backing away – at least for now – from a legal fight over California’s right to impose stricter rules on air quality.

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said Thursday his agency isn’t reviewing the waiver that has given California that right since the federal Clean Air Act was passed in 1970.

“The waiver is not under review,” Pruitt said at a congressional hearing on the EPA’s budget. “This has been something that has been granted, going back to the beginning of the Clean Air Act, because of the leadership California demonstrated.”

Pruitt spoke in response to a pointed question from Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., who said the waiver has broad bipartisan support in California.

During his confirmation hearing in January, Pruitt raised the possibility of revoking California’s right to set tougher air standards. That set off alarm bells from environmentalists and California elected officials.

The federal law gives California the right to seek waivers from the EPA in order to impose tougher standards. Other states can then follow California’s lead. Dozens of waivers have been granted over the years.

The California Air Resources Board, which regulates air pollution in the state, had no immediate comment on Pruitt’s statement.

California officials have been gearing up for a fight with the Trump administration over automobile greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA in March began the process of relaxing emissions standards scheduled to take effect with cars built in 2022. The standards were pioneered in California. A final decision on the rules is expected sometime next year, and state officials have hinted they could take the EPA to court.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

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