Trump Asks Court to Toss California Auto Emissions Lawsuit

110 freeway near downtown Los Angeles
An aerial view looking south over the 110 freeway through downtown Los Angeles. (Matt Gush/Getty Images)

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President Donald Trump’s administration asked a federal judge to throw out California’s lawsuit seeking to preserve its power to regulate tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions, saying Washington has the last word in setting fuel economy standards.

In court papers dated Oct. 15 but made public Dec. 3, Justice Department lawyers told U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in Washington that California’s regulation contravened the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s power to set uniform fuel economy standard for the nation.

“A standard that regulates tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions is not just ‘related to’ fuel economy standards. It is a fuel economy standard,” the department lawyers said.


Calif. Attorney General Xavier Becerra (right) speaks Sept. 18, 2019, in Sacramento as Gov. Gavin Newsom watches in the background. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

California set its own, stricter emissions standards for decades before the Republican administration challenged the state’s authority to do so in September. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, both Democrats, sued in response and were joined by 22 others states, as well as the District of Columbia and the cities of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In their September lawsuit, the states argued the administration exceeded the authority granted to it by Congress when it moved to pre-empt California’s emission standards.

The Justice Department also argued any state challenge to federal authority should have been filed at the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, and not at Jackson’s trial-level court. If the judge does not throw out the case, she should transfer it to the higher court, the department said.

In a response dated Nov. 14 but also made public Dec. 3, the states said their lawsuit belongs in trial court because Congress made no provision for direct appellate review of challenges to the fuel economy regulation.

The fight over emission standards is one of several clashes between Trump and the nation’s largest state. Among the other California-Trump clashes: a lawsuit over the administration’s rescission of a rule allowing the state to require electric vehicle sales and another over an Environmental Protection Agency decision to deregulate almost 1,400 acres of San Francisco Bay salt ponds.

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