EPA head rules out future negotiations with California over car emissions

EPA head rules out future negotiations with California over car emissions
© Stefani Reynolds

Newly confirmed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Andrew Wheeler blamed politics Monday in ruling out any reopening of talks between the Trump administration and California over proposed changes to the federal vehicle emissions standard.

Wheeler said the EPA has instead moved ahead with finalizing its proposed regulation, known as the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule.

“At this point, we have to move to finalize,” Wheeler said in an interview with the Washington Examiner on Monday evening. “We don't have time to move to reopen [negotiations]. We tried to work with California, but we were just not able to."

Speaking on the sidelines of the annual CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, Wheeler blamed the state’s politics for the failure to reach a deal over the rule revision, which California has staunchly rejected.

“In California, politics was playing the bigger hand than the policy,” he said.

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The White House confirmed in late February that it was ending negotiations with California over proposed changes to the federal vehicle emissions standard.

The EPA and Department of Transportation (DOT) declared in August that the heightened emissions standards set to take effect for cars built from 2021 and 2026 are unreasonable for both economic and safety reasons.

The Obama administration set the standards in 2012. The standards were set to become stricter from 2017 through 2026.

After President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE's election, his administration announced that it would be replacing the aggressive Obama-era standard, effectively stripping California of its ability to determine its own vehicle regulations for greenhouse gas emissions.

California and the other states that now have an exemption to set their own higher emissions standards have threatened to sue over the issue once EPA’s rule is finalized.

"We are not negotiating with them because the Trump administration has clearly demonstrated that they don't know or care about cars or consumers. They just want to keep us hooked on oil," Mary Nichols, California Air and Resources Board chairwoman, said in a statement.

"California has been setting emissions standards for cars since 1968, and for greenhouse gases since 2002. It's time to shatter the mythic status of 'one national program.' It's for the carmakers, not the people. Having the California standard for us and 13 other states means cleaner cars for those that want them. That's a bedrock principle of this nation: Consumers in different states can get what they want."

On another front, Wheeler blasted the push by progressives for a "Green New Deal," calling supporters “oblivious.”

“Supporters of the Green New Deal, or plans like it, are not only oblivious to how far we’ve come, but also where we are headed,” Wheeler told an audience at a separate CERA panel.

He added that the plan, which calls for a transition of the U.S. electric grid to 100 percent renewable energy use by 2030, would be dangerous for the economy.

“There are a few, loud voices calling for the complete dismantling of U.S. fossil fuel production. Not only would this be dangerous for the economy and national security, but it would be devastating for public health – both here and abroad,” Wheeler said.