Newsom, Becerra lash out at Trump plan on California emissions standards
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday criticized the Trump administration’s plan to rescind California’s nearly half-century-old authority to impose tough car emissions standards, vowing to take legal action to block the move.
“California will prevail because we’re leaders in this space,” Newsom said.
Newsom’s comments came during a morning news conference with state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, and California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Jared Blumenfeld.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce plans Thursday morning to overturn a special federal waiver that permits California to set its own strict pollution controls to improve air quality, the foundation of the state’s aggressive efforts to combat climate change.
The EPA originally planned to announce that it would do away with the waiver at an event on Wednesday, while President Trump was visiting Los Angeles. But the announcement was delayed, handing the president an opportunity to deliver the news himself.
In a series of tweets early Wednesday, Trump said that revoking California’s authority to impose emissions standards will help make cars safer and more affordable, an assertion that Newsom has consistently refuted.
“This will lead to more production because of this pricing and safety advantage, and also due to the fact that older, highly polluting cars, will be replaced by new, extremely environmentally friendly cars,” Trump tweeted. “There will be very little difference in emissions between the California Standard and the new U.S. Standard, but the cars will be far safer and much less expensive. Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business.”
In fact, automakers have repeatedly warned the administration that forcing a legal battle with California over car pollution standards could significantly damage their bottom line. If the nation’s auto industry is split in two — with some states following California’s standards and others following weaker federal rules — car makers could find themselves caught in a regulatory nightmare, required to comply with both.
Experts have also raised serious doubts about the administration’s argument that the new policy will make new cars safer. In a study published last year in the journal Science, researchers wrote that the administration’s analysis of its own policy proposal “has fundamental flaws and inconsistencies, is at odds with basic economic theory and empirical studies, [and] is misleading.”
Ahead of Wednesday’s news conference, Newsom responded to the president’s claims on Twitter, calling them “simply inaccurate.”
“Your standards will cost consumers $400 billion,” Newsom said in a tweet. “Result in 320 billion more gallons of oil burned and spewed into our air. And hurt car companies’ ability to compete in a global market. It’s bad for our air. Bad for our health. Bad for our economy.”
The Trump administration’s action threatens to derail California’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade to a level 40% below those recorded in 1990: The primary driver behind that effort is the state’s goal to help ensure more than 1 million zero-emission vehicles and plug-in hybrids are on the road by 2025.
“Our message to those who claim to support states’ rights: Don’t trample on ours,” Becerra said Wednesday.
California’s clash with the Republican president, who is in California to fundraise for his 2020 reelection campaign, comes just over a month after state officials worked to circumvent the Trump administration’s efforts to relax tailpipe pollution regulations by reaching a deal with four major automakers, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW, to gradually strengthen fuel-efficiency standards. Other automakers have expressed interest in joining the pact.
In a tweet, Trump called California’s agreement with automakers “crazy” and the U.S. Department of Justice has launched an antitrust investigation into whether it violated federal competition law.
The voluntary deal between the California Air Resources Board and automakers covers about a third of the new cars and SUVs sold in the U.S. Under the agreement, the four automakers agreed to produce cars that must reach a minimum of about 50 mpg by 2026.
Since Trump’s election in 2016, California’s state officials have filed more than 50 lawsuits over the administration‘s actions on a variety of issues, including more than two dozen challenges to policies proposed by the EPA, the U.S. Department of the Interior and other federal agencies responsible for setting energy and fuel-efficiency standards. In August, California joined a coalition of 21 other states suing to block the Trump administration’s attempt to gut restrictions on coal-burning power plants.
The oil and gas industry are split on the rollback
Scientists have projected that the world needs to cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half by mid-century to avert catastrophic effects from global warming.
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency plans to change the way it calculates the future health risks of air pollution, a shift that would predict thousands of fewer deaths and would help justify the planned rollback of a key climate change measure, according to five people with knowledge of the agency’s plans.
The proposed change would dramatically reduce the 1,400 additional premature deaths per year that the E.P.A. had initially forecast as a result of eliminating the old climate change regulation — the Clean Power Plan, which was President Barack Obama’s signature climate change measure. It would also make it easier for the administration to defend its replacement, known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule.
It has been a constant struggle for the E.P.A. to demonstrate, as it is normally expected to do, that society will see more benefits than costs from major regulatory changes. The new modeling method, which experts said has never been peer-reviewed and is not scientifically sound, would most likely be used by the Trump administration to defend further rollbacks of air pollution rules.
It is not uncommon for a presidential administration to use accounting changes to make its regulatory decisions look better than the rules of its predecessors. But the proposed new modeling method is unusual because it relies on unfounded medical assumptions and discards more than a decade of peer-reviewed E.P.A. methods for understanding the health hazards linked to the fine particulate matter produced by burning fossil fuels.
Fine particulate matter — the tiny, deadly particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream — is linked heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disease.
The five people familiar with the plan, who are all current or former E.P.A. officials, said the new modeling method would be used in the agency’s analysis of the final version of the ACE rule, which is expected to be made public in June. William L. Wehrum, the E.P.A. air quality chief, acknowledged in an interview the new method would be included in the agency’s final analysis of the rule.
The new methodology would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires. On paper, that would translate into far fewer premature deaths from air pollution, even if it increased. The problem is, scientists say, in the real world there are no safe levels of fine particulate pollution in the air.
“Particulate matter is extremely harmful and it leads to a large number of premature deaths,” said Richard L. Revesz, an expert in environmental law at New York University. He called the expected change a “monumental departure” from the approach both Republican and Democratic E.P.A. leaders have used over the past several decades and predicted that it would lay the groundwork for weakening more environmental regulations.
“It could be an enormously significant impact,” Mr. Revesz said.
The Obama administration had sought to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Power Plan by pushing utilities to switch away from coal and instead use natural gas or renewable energy to generate electricity. The Obama plan would also have what’s known as a co-benefit: levels of fine particulate matter would fall.
The Trump administration has moved to repeal the Obama-era plan and replace it with the ACE rule, which would slightly improve the efficiency of coal plants. It would also allow older coal plants to remain in operation longer and result in an increase of particulate matter.
Particulate matter comes in various sizes. The greatest health risk comes from what is known as PM 2.5, the range of fine particles that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter. That is about one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.
The E.P.A. has set the safety threshold for PM 2.5 at a yearly average of 12 micrograms per cubic meter. While individual days vary, with some higher, an annual average at or below that level, known as the particulate matter standard, is considered safe. However, the agency still weighs health hazards that occur in the safe range when it analyzes new regulations.
Industry has long questioned that system. After all, fossil fuel advocates ask, why should the E.P.A. search for health dangers, and, ultimately, impose costs on industry, in situations where air is officially considered safe?
Mr. Wehrum, who worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for chemical manufacturers and fossil fuel businesses before moving to the E.P.A., echoed that position in the interview. He noted that, in some regulations, the benefits of reduced particulate matter have been estimated to total in the range of $40 billion.
“How in the world can you get $30 or $40 billion of benefit to public health when most of that is attributable to reductions in areas that already meet a health-based standard,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Mr. Wehrum confirmed that he had asked his staff to study the issue and that the final version of the ACE rule would include a variety of analyses, including one that does not take into consideration health effects below the particulate matter standard. He acknowledged that doing so would reduce the 1,400 premature deaths the agency had initially predicted as a result of the measure.
He called the attention given to that initial forecast “unfortunate” and said the agency had included the figure in its analysis to show the varied results that can be achieved based on different assumptions.
Mr. Wehrum said the analyses the agency is conducting “illuminate the issue” of particulate matter and the question of what level is acceptable for the purposes of policymaking. He said new approaches would allow for public debate to move ahead and that any new methods would be subject to peer review if they became the agency’s primary tool for measuring health risks.
“This isn’t just something I’m cooking up here in my fifth-floor office in Washington,” Mr. Wehrum said.
Roger O. McClellan, who has served on E.P.A. advisory boards and as president of the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology, an industry-financed research center, said the data for health risks below the particulate matter standard was weak and that he did not accept the argument that agencies must calculate risk “down to the first molecule of exposure.”
“These kinds of approaches — that every molecule, every ionization, carries with it an associated calculable health risk — are just misleading,” Mr. McClellan said.
To put the matter in perspective, most scientists say particulate matter standards are like speed limits. On many highways, a limit of 65 miles per hour is considered reasonable to protect public safety. But that doesn’t mean the risk of an accident disappears at 55 m.p.h., or even 25.
Jonathan M. Samet, a pulmonary disease specialist who is dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, said the most recent studies showed negative health effects well below the 12-microgram standard. “It’s not a hard stop where we can say ‘below that, air is safe.’ That would not be supported by the scientific evidence,” Dr. Samet said. “It would be very nice for public health if things worked that way, but they don’t seem to.”
Daniel S. Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit research organization that is funded by the E.P.A. and industry groups, acknowledged there was uncertainty around the effects of fine particulate matter exposure below the standard.
He said it was reasonable of the Trump administration to study the issue, but he questioned moving ahead with a new system before those studies are in. “To move away from the way this has been done without the benefit of this full scientific peer review is unfortunate,” he said.
For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter. Lisa Friedman reports on climate and environmental policy in Washington. A former editor at Climatewire, she has covered nine international climate talks. @LFFriedman