In an escalation of the political and legal battle between his state and the Trump administration, Governor Jerry Brown unsurprisingly announced that California would join 16 other states in suing to halt the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to freeze increases in auto fuel-efficiency standards modeled on California law. EPA’s action would overrule a decision during the Obama administration to implement these tougher standards in 2022. It’s of particular importance to California because the state was planning to abandon its own strict standards and go along with national standards for the sake of uniformity and predictability.
The legal fight over emissions standards anticipates another one on the horizon: the high probability that the EPA will next try to kill the Clean Air Act waiver (in effect since 1970) under which California has been able to pursue stronger air-quality measures than those prevailing nationally. It was first promulgated in recognition of the state’s pioneering auto-emissions regulations (in response to the state’s famously horrific smog problem), even before 1970. And for those interested in significant improvements in emissions regulation, the Golden State (under both Republican and Democratic administrations) has continue to represent the gold standard.
In announcing the latest legal maneuver against the EPA, Brown did something new: applying an insulting nickname to embattled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, calling him “Outlaw Pruitt.” This ploy will inevitably lead to Brown’s being compared to the master of insults, Pruitt’s boss. But unlike some of Trump’s crude sobriquets for his enemies and critics, Brown’s has a clear embedded message: Pruitt is exceeding his statutory authority under the Clean Air Act to abruptly change regulations and standards, as the Sacramento Bee explains:
The lawsuit, filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, argues that scrapping the existing vehicle emissions standards would be arbitrary and capricious, violating rule-making procedures and the Clean Air Act, which requires the federal government to control air pollution.
“You can’t just, like some tin-horn dictator, say, ‘I’m tearing up a rule that was based on a two-year determination process.’ You must have evidence,” Brown said.
“Outlaw Pruitt” also, it is likely, is intended to allude to the EPA administrator’s frequent violations of federal expense, travel, and security protocols, and, well, good taste. Whatever you think of the man’s ideology, characterized by a passion for fossil fuels, he is not exactly comporting himself as someone devoted to strict enforcement of the law. Brown certainly thinks so:
The governor called the EPA chief “this character in Washington, with his expensive travel tastes and his funny little redecorating plans that cost the American people all sorts of money.”
Aside from introducing a new tone to his disputes with Team Trump, Brown’s announcement reflected another landmark: This is the 32nd lawsuit California has launched or joined against the Trump administration. That’s a lot of lawyering up.