Democratic leaders in three states warned again Friday they are ready to challenge the Trump administration in court, alleging abuse of power, if it moves ahead with plans to weaken tailpipe emission standards, and they criticized the auto industry for welching on a national agreement to roughly double fuel economy targets.
The EPA and NHTSA last month proposed freezing Obama-era fuel efficiency standards at 2020 levels, instead of requiring graduated increases through 2025 for a fleetwide average of about 47 mpg. Automakers triggered the proposal by asking President Donald Trump to revisit the EPA's ruling that the standards agreed to by the federal government, the State of California and automakers in 2011 remained achievable.
"Maybe one of the things we should start doing in this country is naming hurricanes after car companies and car models," Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said during a conference call Friday with reporters. "Maybe that would bring the message home to the American people about how much pollution comes from the transportation industry and how much work remains to be done."
The clean car standards were a signature part of President Barack Obama's policy to tackle climate change, and supporters note that global warming is threatening humans, highlighted by the recent increase in natural disasters.
The press briefing was held ahead of hearings scheduled next week in Fresno, Calif., Detroit and Pittsburgh, where the EPA and NHTSA will gather public comments on changes to corporate average fuel economy rules.
Malloy, along with Attorneys General Xavier Becerra of California and Brian Frosh of Maryland, said they have strong legal grounds for a case, arguing the Trump administration's proposal is arbitrary and politically motivated and violates administrative procedures for fair consideration of facts. Becerra also said the attempt to revoke California's authority under federal law to establish more protective emission standards is unconstitutional.
"We're ready to counterpunch," he said.
Under administrative law, federal regulators must demonstrate that decisions impacting the public are made using sound information that is thoroughly evaluated. Critics say there is little evidence to back administration claims that existing mpg targets are ineffective or will lead to unsafe vehicles, in contrast to the voluminous public record compiled by the Obama EPA to justify maintaining the standards.
"If you want to change the law, you've got to go through a process [like the one] that gave us these national standards," Becerra said.
The state leaders said Trump officials are uninterested in looking at other points of view or the facts.
"If a Democratic administration was attempting to do this with so little science, so few facts and a regulatory review process that is practically nonexistent, there would be no doubt that any regulation would be rejected by the courts," Malloy said. "There's no way that this meets a reasonable standard, and that's what will be tested in the courts, need be."
Next week's hearings are inadequate, the leaders said.
"Three hearings around the entire country on something as important as the existential issue that faces the planet" is not enough, Becerra said, noting that Southern California has experienced 87 consecutive days of smog -- the longest stretch in two decades.
He said California is ready to talk with automakers and federal officials about ways to maintain a unified national emissions program that simplifies compliance, "but we're not interested in playing games."
Connecticut and Maryland are among a dozen states that follow California's low-emission vehicle program.