With the Trump administration expected to roll back the nation's fuel economy standards, California took a preemptive strike Tuesday, suing to preserve regulations that will require automakers to produce significantly cleaner cars over the next decade.
Dubbing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt an "outlaw," Gov. Jerry Brown announced a joint lawsuit with 16 other states and the District of Columbia to stop Pruitt from reversing the mileage rules established in 2012 under former President Barack Obama.
Brown said the world must turn away from the combustion engine and toward vehicles that produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions as it faces the existential crisis of climate change.
"We're losing the battle on climate change. We've got to step up our efforts," he said at a press conference. "This is about the survival of some of you and certainly all of your children."
The lawsuit, filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, argues that scrapping the existing vehicle emissions standards would be arbitrary and capricious, violating rule-making procedures and the Clean Air Act, which requires the federal government to control air pollution.
"You can't just, like some tin-horn dictator, say, 'I'm tearing up a rule that was based on a two-year determination process.' You must have evidence," Brown said.
Cars and trucks are now the country's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and the Obama administration, in collaboration with California, began developing national regulations in 2010 as part of its fight against climate change. The plan compels automobile manufacturers to, by 2025, develop new vehicle models with an average fuel economy of 55 miles per gallon.
But, spurred by industry requests to relax the standards, the Trump administration is reportedly proposing to freeze targets at the 2020 level of 42 miles per gallon and leave that guideline in place through 2026. Pruitt has publicly dismissed the Obama fuel economy rules as unnecessary and expensive.
Brown on Tuesday accused Pruitt and President Donald Trump of putting American automakers on a path to extinction by allowing China and other countries that have set deadlines to ban the sale of gas-powered vehicles to the lead the way on developing zero-emission technology.
"They want people to buy more gas, create more pollution. It's hard to believe, but that's the fact," Brown said. "It's not going to make America great, it's going to make America second-rate and probably will jeopardize America's auto industry."
Brown was joined by Attorney General Xavier Becerra and California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, who said she had not heard "officially or even unofficially from anybody at EPA" that the agency would revoke a separate waiver California received decades ago to set its own tougher tailpipe emissions standards.
Pruitt told a congressional hearing last week that he does not intend to do so, but the EPA proposal to roll back mileage standards reportedly includes a provision that would use other federal laws to override California's waiver authority.
"The evil of the day is sufficient thereof," Brown said. "So we have an evil here that we're fighting. Now will there be more evils? Most certainly. And we'll attack them as they show their ugly head."
At the White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders sidestepped a question about whether the Trump administration was taking a heavy hand with states on the environment and other issues.
"Certainly, the administration supports states' rights," she said. "In regards to the specific lawsuit, we're reviewing that and we'll let you know when we have a statement out."