Public Citizen Backs California in Court Battle Over Clean Car Standards

Public Citizen News / November-December 2019

By David Rosen

This article appeared in the November/December 2019 edition of Public Citizen News. Download the full edition here.

The Trump administration had no authority to revoke California’s right to regulate auto emissions standards, Public Citizen and eight environmental groups told the courts in a lawsuit filed in September. California’s right to do so has been recognized in law for decades and should remain in place, Public Citizen and the groups maintain.

President Donald Trump is trying to roll back greenhouse gas standards for automobiles nationwide that were put in place in 2012 jointly by the Obama administration and California. But California’s right to set its own standards and its commitment to maintaining the protections of the 2012 standards has stood in his way.

So in September, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a rule declaring that California has no right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.

NHTSA’s rule served as the main legal basis for an action taken simultaneously by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revoking a Clean Air Act waiver that allowed California to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and require that automakers include zero emission vehicles in their fleets.

California’s emissions standards and zero emission vehicles mandate were adopted in 2012 at the same time that the EPA issued greenhouse gas emissions standards and the NHTSA issued fuel economy standards. The Clean Air Act recognizes California’s right to set these standards and allows certain other states follow them.

Public Citizen and the other groups in the lawsuit are asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to throw out the NHTSA’s rule.

According to the lawsuit, the rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act, the Clean Air Act, the Energy Independence and Security Act, the Energy Policy and Conservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act – and falls outside the scope of the statutory duties and powers of the various federal agencies named in the suit.

“We aren’t going to let California’s auto emissions standards or the existing federal standards set by the Obama administration go down without a fight,” said Scott Nelson, attorney for Public Citizen. “NHTSA has no legal basis for its actions. The climate may be heating up, but so is the legal battle. Trump wants California’s clean car standards out of the way, but he’s going to have to get through us first.”

In addition to Public Citizen, the groups that filed the lawsuit are the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation, Environment America, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

California and other states also have filed suit in the same court. Challenges to the EPA’s waiver revocation will follow soon.