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September 5, 2019 7:30 PM, EDT

EPA Wants to Revoke California Auto Regulation Powers

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The Trump administration is preparing a plan to strip California’s authority to set tougher auto efficiency regulations than the federal government, even while agencies continue finalizing a rollback of national standards, according to people familiar with the matter.

The matter is still under consideration and no final decision has been made, though one is expected in the coming days, said the people, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter.

Under the plan, the Environmental Protection Agency would revoke a waiver granted to California allowing the state to limit vehicle greenhouse gas emissions more stringently than federal rules, as well as the state’s requirement that companies sell electric cars in greater numbers each year, the people said. In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation plans to assert that the California standards are preempted by federal fuel-economy regulations.

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The plan also would leave in place California’s regulations covering smog-forming emissions from cars and other sources, the people said. Consideration of the plan was previously reported by Politico.

“Going for preemption is the nuclear option,” said Jody Freeman, a Harvard environmental law professor and former official in Barack Obama’s White House who helped broker the 2009 pact that aligned fuel efficiency standards between the federal agencies and California. President Donald Trump “is saying to the auto companies: ‘California has no legal authority in our opinion, so it can’t threaten to set its own standards, so you don’t need to make a deal.’ ”

Representatives of the EPA and the California Air Resources Board, the agency responsible for the state’s auto emissions rules, didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment. A U.S. Department of Transportation spokesman declined to comment.

The move to strip California’s power to set rules intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, a linchpin in the state’s climate-change agenda, was a key element in the Trump administration’s August 2018 proposal to slash Obama-era efficiency rules by capping requirements after 2020.

By breaking up the plan, the revocation of California’s powers under consideration would be able to proceed while work continues on the new federal fuel-efficiency rules, one of the people said.

California, other states and environmental organizations have pledged to fight the Trump administration’s plan, and automakers fear a lengthy legal battle over California’s authority could roil their business plans that depend on predictable standards.

The Trump administration’s preparations come after four automakers, including Ford Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co., agreed to meet a voluntary compromise on efficiency standards offered by CARB that the companies said offered regulatory certainty.