Trump Administration Official Defends Decision To Revoke California's Emissions Standards Waiver

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The Trump administration says it's revoking a waiver that allowed California to set its own standards for automobile emissions. (Frank Franklin II/AP)
The Trump administration says it's revoking a waiver that allowed California to set its own standards for automobile emissions. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

This story is part of "Covering Climate Now," a week-long global initiative of over 250 news outlets.

This week, the Trump administration announced it’s revoking California’s authority to set its own emissions standards ⁠— ending nearly 50 years of precedent.

The state has used the waiver to help combat air pollution since the Clean Air Act of 1970, including by setting tougher tailpipe pollution rules than the federal government.

The administration’s move comes as the Environmental Protection Agency plans to roll back a set of Obama-era national standards aimed at pushing automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars. And it comes just weeks after the Department of Justice launched an antitrust investigation into a July deal between California and four automakers – Ford, Volkswagen, Honda and BMW.

Russ Vought, Office of Management and Budget acting director, says the decision is intended to ensure American families can have cheaper, better cars and continuing to grow the economy.

He says concerns about clean air must be addressed by “practical steps that are not informed by ideology.”

Interview Highlights

On whether the Trump administration is infringing on California's rights

"This is not about federalism. This is about ensuring that when we're dealing with interstate commerce, something that the constitutional system was specifically set up to ensure that Congress can ensure that no state is bullying another state and requiring mandates that will be put on the backs of consumers across the country, that that can't happen. So this is not about the types of programs that were set up by previous governors, many of them from a conservative perspective. This is about 2013, when the Obama administration, working in conjunction with the state of California, allowed California to set astronomically high emissions standards that will lead to cars that are $3,000 more expensive. And the Trump administration is coming along and saying, we want American families to have safer, cheaper and better cars, and to do that we need to have lower emission standards."

On why the Obama-era levels are "astronomically high" when they align with standards being set all over the world

"It's because the car manufacturers have already shown they can't meet those standards. So even the current standards, this is a scale that's going up, but right now only 3 out of the 11 car manufacturers were able to meet the current standards without the use of the electric vehicle credits. And the electrical vehicle credits are kind of a scam to make sure that these vehicles are created when there isn't a market demand for them. ... Those credits are paid for on the back of consumers across the country. ... The car manufacturers don't think it's a sustainable situation and that's why most of them were arguing that there should not be standards that go up to the original Obama levels and we only have a few that are now colluding with the state of California to reach some kind of settlement."

On the Trump administration's proposed plan to freeze standards at 2020 levels.

"We haven't come forward with what our final proposal will be, we're in the middle of doing that. What this specific reform is doing is merely taking the waiver away and saying that California is no longer going to get the standard and bully the rest of the country. ... We know that the current Obama standards are too high and we will be reducing them with the final proposal we come forward with."

On the strength of the economy

"Part of a growing economy is the deregulatory effort that this administration has put forward as a priority. One of the key pillars of that deregulatory agenda is this specific regulatory proposal. So we think that to keep the economy growing well, it's important to keep money in the pockets of people that allow us to use energy and use it as cheaply as possible, energy prices are low right now. We think all of that is good for the economy. And we think it's good for the economy for families to be able to spend less on cars, and they can then use that money to invest or to save and to do other things that build the economy as well."

On whether the Trump administration is moving the wrong way on the environment

"We all want cleaner water, cleaner air. And we're looking for practical steps that are not informed by ideology to be able to get that result. And we think that when families are not buying newer cars with newer systems to contain pollution, that that actually sets us back, than everyone going around and driving cars that has 12 year old emissions systems in them. So from our perspective this rule, this set of proposals, will actually lead to the type of practical results that those demonstrating on behalf of the environment actually want."

 Francesca Paris produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku RayAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on September 20, 2019.


Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



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