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Why Trump Is Blocking California’s Emission Rules

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The same trend is apparent on other issues. In August, the EPA proposed regulations that would limit states’ ability to contest the construction of energy pipelines through their borders. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has issued a policy blocking state regulators from scrutinizing the companies that collect federal student loans. When Republicans controlled the House in 2017, they passed legislation that would override state laws by allowing any gun owner with a concealed-carry permit in one state to bring that firearm to any other state. In recent weeks, Trump has hinted that he will seek to intervene to override policies on homelessness in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco.

And take health care: The president’s most recent federal budget endorsed legislation that would replace the Affordable Care Act with block grants to the states, massively shifting federal dollars from the mostly blue states that expanded eligibility for Medicaid under the ACA to the mostly red states that did not.

Democratic governors view these moves as a consistent effort to limit their authority. “The Trump administration continues to undermine important state programs and protections in order to push a dangerous, out-of-touch political agenda,” Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, who also chairs the Democratic Governors Association, said in an emailed statement.

Even within this well-established pattern, the effort announced yesterday to revoke California’s waiver to regulate vehicle emissions stands out because it runs so counter to the moves that presidents of both parties have made for nearly half a century.

California’s authority to set its own standards dates back decades, to when former President Richard Nixon, a Republican (and Californian), signed the Clean Air Act. Recognizing that California had started regulating auto emissions in 1966 in response to its struggles with air pollution and smog, the law gave California, alone among the states, the ability to receive waivers from the EPA to set stricter vehicle-emission standards. In 1977, Congress allowed other states to adopt California’s standards, rather than the federal rules.

Since 1970, the EPA has granted California over 100 of these waivers, paving the way to the country’s first limits on emissions of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide, along with the development of the catalytic converter and the check-engine light.

The waiver Trump is trying to revoke traces back to a 2002 California state law that required automakers to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from their vehicles, which functionally mandated that they improve the fuel economy on the cars they sell. Former President George W. Bush’s EPA refused to grant California a waiver to implement that law, and the state went to court to obtain it—though the dispute became moot when Obama took office in 2009 and approved the waiver. Obama then incorporated the California rules into a national agreement with the auto companies to improve fuel-efficiency standards through 2016. In 2012, when California approved new state standards through 2025, Obama granted it another waiver, and again essentially merged the state rules into new national rules.

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