California, one of the most progressive states in the US on climate issues, is heading toward a legal showdown with the administration of US President Donald Trump over its environmental policies.
The battle is shaping up as Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order rolling back key measures from the administration of former US president Barack Obama to combat climate change.
Trump insists the order will benefit US workers, notably coal miners.
However, the measure has environmental groups and officials in California — which has led the fight to curb climate change and has the largest automobile market in the country — up in arms and vowing a showdown.
“Gutting #CPP is a colossal mistake and defies science itself,” California Governor Jerry Brown said on Twitter, referring to the Clean Power Plan aimed at curbing global warming.
“Erasing climate change may take place in Donald Trump’s mind, but nowhere else,” he added.
Brown has led California’s climate change crusade, which saw the state in the past decade significantly slash its yearly climate-warming emissions by about 35 million tonnes.
It has pledged to cut them even further by 2020, with other states looking to follow suit.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Tuesday joined Brown in saying that Trump would meet with fierce resistance over his new directive.
“No matter what happens in Washington, we will work to meet our sustainable city plan goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, move toward zero-emissions transportation and pursue our vision of a 100 percent clean energy future,” the mayor said in a statement.
Although the federal government sets emission standards for cars in the US, that is not the case in car-crazy California. In 1970, the state struck an agreement to adopt stricter air quality rules to combat the smog that plagues the vast Los Angeles metropolitan area.
While the auto industry initially pushed back at the stricter measures, today the state has more than half of the plug-in electric cars in the country.
However, there are fears that this could change, should Trump — who has called global warming a hoax — direct the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to roll back on the state’s special waiver for tougher emissions rules.
California leaders have already said that they would not go down without a fight and have vowed to push forward with even stricter measures.
Experts have said Trump could very well rescind the waiver — which would lead to fierce legal battles — or adopt new federal regulations without challenging those of California and 13 other states that have adopted the same stringent clean air standards as California.
“The third option is to go to [US] Congress to revoke the Clean Air Act and that’s what we fear the most,” California Air Resources Board spokesman Stanley Young said.
Cara Horowitz, coexecutive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA, said that while it is impossible to predict the outcome of a showdown between California and the Trump administration, the state’s track record in combating pollution was a plus.
“My sense is that California has a long history of aggressively regulating pollution and getting these waivers,” she said.
As to new US EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s declared skepticism about climate change, experts have said that in the end, scientific data will prove the best defense.
“The fact that he denies it doesn’t change the science or the law,” Young said.
Nonetheless, Pruitt might prove a savvy adversary given his legal background in suing the EPA repeatedly as attorney general of Oklahoma, he added.
“He knows exactly how the agency works and what you can do to do the most damage,” Young said. “We thought he was going to use a hammer and instead he chose to use a scalpel.”
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