This editorial was published by the Columbian of Vancouver, Wash.
The Trump administration’s efforts to prevent California — and, by proxy, other states — from setting guidelines for vehicle emissions are rife with specious reasoning, vindictiveness and hypocrisy. State of Washington officials are wise to take the issue to court.
“With this unlawful move, the Trump administration has once again demonstrated its callous disregard for the state’s right to protect Washingtonians from the catastrophic effects of climate change,” Gov. Jay Inslee and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “If the Trump administration has its way, Washingtonians will be left with fewer options for cleaner, more efficient cars that get more gas mileage or use no gas at all. That means driving would cost more and pollute more.”
That statement is accurate and based on facts — unlike the administration’s latest attempt to roll back emissions standards. But it calls for a bit of explanation.
Since 1970, under the Clean Air Act, California has been granted a waiver from federal emissions standards. Officials there have consistently adopted more stringent standards that have been copied by more than 20 other states, including Washington.
In 2012, the Obama administration issued rules mandating that overall vehicle efficiency reach 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. President Donald Trump has rolled back those standards to 37 mpg. The reasoning was absurd, including assertions that more stringent mileage standards will cause manufacturers to make lighter cars that are more dangerous, and that better mileage would cause motorists to drive more. In truth, the Trump standards would benefit nobody but oil companies.
Rather than embrace policies that do too little to combat climate change and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, California this summer reached agreement with four automakers on tougher standards. With California being, by far, the largest automobile market and with other states following its lead, the agreement carries weight throughout the country.
And that is where the administration became vindictive.
Trump recently announced plans to revoke California’s waiver allowing the state to establish its own standards. The legality of the move is questionable, considering that California’s waiver is written into the law passed by Congress in 1970 and reinforced in the years since. The motivation behind it also is questionable, as it seems to be simply another attempt to poke California in the eye rather than protect the health of the environment and Americans. Instead of basing an important decision on science and the pressing needs presented by climate change, President Donald Trump has opted to turn the issue into a childish spat.
That aspect was reinforced Sept. 23 when the federal Environmental Protection Agency threatened to withhold billions of dollars in federal highway funds from California because of the state’s “chronic air quality problems.” Demanding weakened fuel mileage standards while criticizing the state’s air quality meets a level of hypocrisy rarely seen even in the Trump administration. But it should not come as a surprise at this point that the president would focus more on personal vendettas than on sound policy.
In announcing that Washington would join other states that have filed suit over the policy, Inslee said: “If the administration refuses to accept the scientific reality of climate change, they need to get out of the way and let states like Washington lead on this issue.”
That would seem to be a reasonable idea. It is appalling that it will take the courts to bring it to fruition.