Gas War: California Sues Over State-based Emission Standards

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

On Friday, California and 23 other states filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration over efforts to reverse state-driven emissions standards. Earlier this week, the president confirmed speculation that the federal government would be taking steps to revoke California’s fuel waiver — making the suit about as predictable as the setting sun.

We’ve told the story countless times. The Golden State wants to maintain stringent emission laws for automobiles, the Trump administration wants a fuel rollback, and automakers want a universal national standard. After months of nonproductive talks and all sides attempting to make their case to the public, it looks at though the Supreme Court will have the final say.

Considering there really was no way to keep both sides happy without throwing a colossal wrench into the automotive industry, this outcome always felt like an inevitability. During a Thursday press conference, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said that the abolishment of California’s rigid rules on tailpipe emissions “meets President Trump’s commitment to establish uniform fuel economy standards for vehicles across the United States, ensuring that no state has the authority to impose its policies on everybody else in our whole country.”

The DOT and EPA will jointly revoke the legal waiver, granted to California by the Obama administration under the authority of the 1970 Clean Air Act, that permits the state to set tighter state standards for greenhouse gas emissions stemming from automobiles.


According to The New York Times, California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, has filed 60 lawsuits against the Trump administration. While their success rate has been mixed, they’ve shown the White House that California does not intend to allow the Executive Branch to dictate what it contends are state matters. However, the Trump administration has recently accused California of being a region gone awry. While much of that deals with the state’s growing homeliness problem and immigration rules, the president has also accused California’s of trying to hold the rest of the nation hostage via its environmental policies.

“The administration insists on attacking the authority of California and other states to tackle air pollution and protect public health,” said Becerra on Friday. “President Trump should have at least read the instruction manual he inherited when he assumed the presidency, in particular the chapter on respecting the rule of law.”

From The New York Times:

The lawsuit represents the starting gun in a sweeping legal battle over states’ rights and climate change that is likely be resolved only once it reaches the Supreme Court. The decision could ultimately have wide-ranging repercussions affecting states’ control over their own environmental laws, the volume of pollution produced by the United States, and the future of the nation’s auto industry.

All the state attorneys general signing on to the suit are Democrats, but they represent several states that Mr. Trump won in 2016. States joining the lawsuit include Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Carolina, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

“This is the fight of a lifetime for us,” said Mary Nichols, California’s top climate change official. “I believe we will win.”

[Image: Nithid Memanee/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Jkross22 Jkross22 on Sep 22, 2019

    I don't see how emotional arguments coming from either paranoia of a mythical CA takeover of federal law or CARB overreach should have any sway here. Go look at the evidence. Even though AQ has improved, the Los Angeles area still scores an F from the American Lung Association. https://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/sota/city-rankings/states/california/los-angeles.html CARB sucks, but crappy AQ sucks more for about 10 million people in LA alone. When it comes to public safety, I'd rather have a local government that acts this way as opposed to a Flint, MI style approach. Or New Jersey.

    • Lorenzo Lorenzo on Sep 24, 2019

      If CARB's strict standards don't work in the Los Angeles basin, where they were intended to work, what good are those standards? Maybe the LA basin is an unique combination of warm temperatures, proximity to the ocean, prevailing winds, and topography that has no human cause and no possible human solution.

  • Master Baiter Master Baiter on Sep 22, 2019

    Let's not pretend this issue is about air quality. It's about CO2 emissions and California forcing the rest of the country to go along with its climate alarmist policies.

  • Freddie Another reason not to buy a Tesla.
  • Bd2 Tesla is the most important company in the world, responsible for mass enlightenment and empowerment of the educated affluent masses. This lawsuit will only impede the progress of the human race.
  • Aja8888 Good! Hope the owners' win the case, but it will probably be a long time before Tesla releases repair particulars to 3rd party shops. There is a Tesla service center near me I see every day that is absolutely loaded with service-waiting vehicles (parked for weeks) and I'm sure those owners are not thrilled.
  • SCE to AUX I've seen several Fisker Oceans, but not a single 400 Z.
  • Luke42 With Elon Musk just randomly firing the Supercharger team, Tesla has demonstrated that it isn’t a reliable business partner over the long-term.Being able to get 3rd-party repairs just got a lot more important.I’ve also been upping my Tesla-DIY game.That said, I just put 5000 miles on my Model Y in a month (family-obligations) using the Supercharger Network, and my EV is an incredibly capable vehicle when viewed through an engineering lens. As a car guy, driving my EV through the Appalachian mountains where I learned to drive was truly an experience of holding a tiger by the tail and guiding it where I want to go. But, when looking at my Tesla with Elon in charge of sales & service, I do have some serious concerns about the long-term stability of Tesla as a business.My current plan is to trade my Model Y and my GMC Sierra in on a Silverado EV or GMC Sierra EV once the price/availability/finance picture looks favorable. Elon’s unhinged behavior and the Toyota/Honda’s refusal to innovate are making GM look like a good long-term bet to me.I’ll put up with all of this in order to continue driving an EV, though. Even the best gasoline and diesel vehicles are slow buzzy buckets of bolts that smell bad, compared to my EV — so I’m not going back to a 20th century vehicle voluntarily.
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