Trump administration moves toward national fuel economy standard, prepares for legal battle with California

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced Thursday a “One National Program Rule,” paving the way for the federal government to set national uniform standards for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions for cars and light-duty trucks — in a move to block California's current requirements.

The Trump administration claims the national standard would give Americans access to vehicles that are less expensive, safer and cleaner. The administration also says it will result in millions of new car sales, boosting the U.S. auto manufacturing industry. The "One National Program Rule" aims to prohibit states from imposing their own stricter standards, as California has done, and the administration challenged the Golden State's ability to do so.

“Today’s action meets President Trump’s commitment to establish uniform fuel economy standards for vehicles across the United States, ensuring that no State has the authority to opt out of the Nation’s rules, and no state has the right to impose its policies on the rest of the country,” Chao said.

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California's authority to set its own emissions standards, which are tougher than the federal government's, goes back to a waiver issued by Congress during passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. The state has long pushed automakers to adopt more fuel-efficient passenger vehicles that emit less pollution. A dozen states and the District of Columbia also follow California's fuel economy standards.

The Trump administration decision revokes that waiver, touching off what is sure to be another high-profile legal fight with California.

In anticipation of the move, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Tuesday that the administration's action will hurt both U.S. automakers and American families. He said California would fight the administration in federal court.

"You have no basis and no authority to pull this waiver," Becerra, a Democrat, said in a statement, referring to Trump. "We're ready to fight for a future that you seem unable to comprehend."

EPA General Counsel Matt Leopold said Thursday, “We’re ready to defend our interpretation of the waiver withdraw.” He said they are confident that the administration would succeed.

The move comes after the Justice Department recently opened an antitrust investigation into a deal between California and four automakers for tougher pollution and related mileage requirements than those sought by Trump.

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Wheeler said Thursday that the administration has asked California for the legal authority for their agreement. He also took a shot at California’s environmental woes, claiming that the state has “the worst air quality in the United States,” and that they should put their efforts into solving that problem.

“We hope that the state will focus on these issues rather than trying to set fuel economy standards for the entire country,” Wheeler said.

The Associated Press has contributed to this report.