EPA watchdog to review pollution plans after threat to withhold California highway funding
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) internal watchdog will review the agency’s methods for regulating states’ air pollution following threats by Administrator Andrew Wheeler to withhold highway funding from California if they did not update their plans.
The evaluation from EPA’s Office of Inspector General, spurred by a request from lawmakers, will focus on State Implementation Plans (SIP), used by the agency to ensure states are meeting air quality standards.
But plans that would otherwise draw little attention beyond EPA circles were brought to the spotlight through the ongoing battle between the Trump administration and California.
In September, Wheeler wrote state leaders saying they owed the agency an urgent turnaround on a backlog of air pollution plans.
“Since the 1970s, California has failed to carry out its most basic tasks under the Clean Air Act. California has the worst air quality in the United States,” Wheeler wrote, adding that the state has 130 outdated plans across various regions, some of which date back decades.
He later floated withholding billions in federal highway funds.
“We certainly want to avoid these triggers, but our foremost concern must be ensuring clean air for all Americans,” Wheeler wrote.
Wheeler’s letter came just days after President Trump announced he would revoke the waiver that allows California to set tougher emissions standards for vehicles — something California has argued is necessary to fight its air pollution.
Two days after threatening to withhold funding based on the SIPs, Wheeler sent another letter saying the state is “failing to meet its obligations” on sewage and water pollution.
The review from OIG asks a number of questions about SIPs, including why states may face delays in getting EPA approval.
An EPA official said the agency is aware of the audit and will comply with requests.