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California Leads Coalition of States Suing EPA over Vehicle-Emissions Standards

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing on the FY2019 Environmental Protection Agency budget in Washington, D.C. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

A coalition of 18 states sued the Trump administration Tuesday over EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s proposed rollback of Obama-era vehicle-emissions standards.

The states, which are led by California and together comprise roughly 40 percent of America’s auto market, claim that Pruitt acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when he pledged in April to modify Obama-era fuel-efficiency standards in light of new information.

“This phalanx of states will defend the nation’s clean car standards to boost gas mileage and curb toxic air pollution,” California governor Jerry Brown said in a statement announcing the suit.

California and the other states party to the suit allege that Pruitt decided to toss the existing regulations, which were implemented in 2011, absent any new information and despite the fact that automakers are on track to hit existing emissions targets. In defending the proposed revisions to the Obama-era standards, the EPA has cited falling fuel prices, which increase demand for larger cars and SUVs and make it more difficult for automakers to hit average fuel-economy targets.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, also challenges the Trump administration’s attempts to curb states’ autonomy in setting their own emissions standards — a significant issue considering California’s outsize share of the auto market in particular. California, which represents roughly 12 percent of all U.S. auto sales, had received a series of federal waivers that allow it and twelve other states involved in the suit to implement emissions standards that are stricter than the EPA’s. The administration has moved to revoke those waivers.

Automakers and industry groups, some of which have argued that existing fuel-emission targets are unrealistic and lead to higher prices, are now concerned that the nascent legal battle could lead to a divided market as certain states require more stringent emissions standards than others.

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