Attorney General Becerra Files Lawsuit Challenging Trump Administration’s Attempt to Trample California’s Authority to Maintain Longstanding Clean Car Standards

Friday, September 20, 2019
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

Lawsuit is 60th filed by Attorney General Becerra against the Trump Administration

SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today, with Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Air Resources Board, led a coalition of 24 attorneys general and the cities of Los Angeles and New York in filing a lawsuit against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The lawsuit challenges the Trump Administration’s regulation designed to preempt California’s greenhouse gas emissions and Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) standards, also known as California’s Advanced Clean Car Standards. These standards — authorized in 2013 by a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and followed, in whole or part, by 13 other states and the District of Columbia — are a key part of state efforts to protect public health and the environment. In the lawsuit, the coalition asserts that this Preemption Rule is unlawful and should be vacated.

“Two courts have already upheld California’s emissions standards, rejecting the argument the Trump Administration resurrects to justify its misguided Preemption Rule. Yet, the Administration insists on attacking the authority of California and other states to tackle air pollution and protect public health,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The Oval Office is really not a place for on-the-job training. 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. Mr. President, we’ll see you in court.”

“California won’t bend to the President’s reckless and politically motivated attacks on our clean car waiver,” said Governor Newsom. “We’ll hold the line in court to defend our children’s health, save consumers money at the pump and protect our environment."

"I started my career litigating to clean up the air in California with one of the first Clean Air Act cases ever filed," said CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols.  "I won then and we will win now. We are ready to keep fighting to protect our people and our planet."

Under the federal Clean Air Act, California may apply for a waiver from EPA to set its own vehicle emissions standards that are at least as protective as the federal government’s standards, and EPA must approve the waiver, unless it makes certain findings. Over the past 50 years, the EPA has granted 100 waivers to California. Thanks to California’s vehicle emissions program, the state has reduced emissions by hundreds of thousands of tons annually, encouraged the development of emission controls technologies, and paved the way for stronger federal standards. 

In January 2012, California adopted its comprehensive Advanced Clean Cars Program for cars and light duty trucks in model years 2017 through 2025. The program combines the control of smog-causing pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions into a single coordinated package. The program improves air quality and curbs greenhouse gases while saving drivers money at the pump. On its own, the California program would reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the state by approximately 14.4 million metric tons a year by 2025 and 25.2 million metric tons a year by 2030. When accounting for emissions savings from other states that have adopted California’s standards, these emission reductions nearly triple. 

Through its unlawful Preemption Rule, NHTSA is attempting to declare the California greenhouse gas and ZEV standards preempted under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), based on arguments repeatedly rejected by multiple courts. In doing so, NHTSA oversteps the authority granted to it by Congress and ignores Congress’s careful and repeated preservation of California’s authority. 

In the lawsuit, California asks the court to strike down the regulation as unlawful on the basis that NHTSA:

  • Purports to exercise authority that Congress has not granted the agency: namely, to decree what EPCA does or does not preempt;
  • Imagines an inherent conflict between two sets of rules, California’s GHG and ZEV standards and NHTSA’s fuel economy standards, that have co-existed for years;
  • Willfully misreads EPCA as preempting state emission standards it explicitly directed NHTSA to account for, and as implicitly repealing portions of the Clean Air Act;
  • Ignores the authority and intent of Congress, which has repeatedly reaffirmed and embraced California’s authority over the last four decades;
  • Disregards the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to assess or analyze the damage that the agency’s Preemption Rule would inflict on the environment and public health;
  • Acts arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to explain about-faces from its previous positions or its reasons for acting;
  • Fails to respect states’ authority to protect public health and welfare, and ignores the adverse effect the Preemption Rule would have in California, where passenger vehicles and other mobile sources are the largest sources of multiple pollutants. Controlling this pollution is key to improving air quality statewide, including for millions of Californians who still breathe air that does not meet federal air quality standards, and as a result, suffer increased rates of respiratory and cardiovascular health impacts and premature deaths; and
  • Disregards the role these standards play in helping California and other states meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards. In California, for instance, areas such as the South Coast and San Joaquin Valley are classified as extreme nonattainment areas, where vehicle emissions have been the largest contributor to air pollution and smog. Many other states have followed suit in their state implementation plans.

Attorney General Becerra leads the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia; as well as the cities of Los Angeles and New York.

A copy of the complaint can be found attached to electronic version of this release here.

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