Anyone who cares about breathing clean air has to be concerned about the advent of an administration in Washington, D.C., that appears intent on rolling back our hard-won progress in reducing emissions.
President Trump, his nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Republican leaders in Congress have all declared plans to allow the oil and coal industries to extract, transport and burn dirty fuels with little restraint, to quash the free expression of science within the federal government, and to neuter the agencies that are supposed to safeguard our air and atmosphere. Indeed, plans to carry out this radical pro-fossil-fuel, anti-healthy air agenda are already advancing in Congress.
Because California battled smog before the rest of the country, our state was granted a unique authority under the federal Clean Air Act to set tougher emission standards.
Probably no state has as much to lose as California. Despite the substantial progress made since the Coalition for Clean Air was founded in the smoggy early ‘70s, the Golden State still has the worst air pollution in the country, with the greater Los Angeles area and the San Joaquin Valley suffering the most acutely. State and regional agencies have reduced emissions by requiring cleaner cars, trucks, and fuels, by ramping up renewable energy, and by pushing innovation in everything from buildings to appliances to paints. And still more must be done so that our residents can finally breathe easily.
During the eight years of the Obama Administration, California’s air agencies became accustomed to collaborating productively with their counterparts at USEPA on measures to alleviate pollution. Now President Trump has declared California “out of control” and nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Greg Pruitt, the polluters’ best friend, to run EPA.
Fortunately, California is also the state with the greatest ability to resist the Trump dirty-air agenda. Our Air Resources Board is a leader among regulators, and our Governor and legislative leaders have committed themselves to going forward, not back. At the grass-roots level, people across the state are demanding that their elected officials protect our health from pollution.
Because California battled smog before the rest of the country, our state was granted a unique authority under the federal Clean Air Act to set tougher emission standards for cars and trucks than those imposed by USEPA. ARB has exercised this power over 100 times, with the approval of USEPA. That authority led to California’s clean-car standards — initially called for by a Fran Pavley-authored law in 2002 and backed by Governors Davis, Schwarzenegger and Brown — being adopted as national rules early in President Obama’s tenure.
Those clean-car standards are now under attack by opportunistic automakers, who are asking the Trump administration to roll them back. If they do, ARB can retain the cleaner rules for California and the other states that have chosen to follow our lead. But Pruitt, under tough questioning at his confirmation hearing by new Senator Kamala Harris, refused to commit to upholding California’s right to set higher standards, so we may be headed for a confrontation.
Rumblings are already being heard on Capitol Hill about an effort to repeal California’s authority to require cleaner vehicles, so Senators Harris and Feinstein will need to be especially vigilant and block any such legislation that would weaken the Clean Air Act. Attorney General Xavier Becerra may well have to go to court to defend our state’s air, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León has made clear his willingness to fill any void left by a federal government that retreats from safeguarding our health.
California’s elected leaders, advocates and voters all must stand ready to protect breathers during the next four years of living dangerously.
Ed’s Note: Bill Magavern is Policy Director of the Coalition for Clean Air, whose mission is to restore healthy air for all Californians.