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Connecticut, 22 other states sue Trump to keep California’s auto emission rules

Traffic moves along the 110 freeway, on March 14, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California sued Friday to stop the Trump administration from revoking its authority to set greenhouse gas emission and fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, enlisting help from 22 other states in a battle that will shape a key component of the nation’s climate policy.

Federal law sets standards for how much pollution can come from cars and trucks. But since the 1970s, California has been permitted to set tougher rules because it has the most cars and struggles to meet air quality standards. On Thursday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration withdrew California’s waiver.

The NHTSA action does not take effect for 60 days, but state leaders did not wait to file a lawsuit. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has clashed with President Donald Trump on several fronts, vowed the state “will hold the line in court to defend our children’s health, save consumers money at the pump and protect our environment.”

The Trump administration’s decision does not just affect California. Thirteen other states, plus the District of Columbia, have adopted California’s standards. Connecticut is one of them.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong

“The more stringent California emissions standards are incorporated into Connecticut law,” Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. “This is a blatant assault on California’s, and by extension Connecticut’s, right to control vehicle emissions that contribute to climate change and the air we breathe. The decision today is another step in this administration’s goal to dismantle environmental protections. Automakers themselves oppose this reckless and needless overreach because they know low and zero emissions vehicles are critical to our future.”

A spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration declined to comment on the lawsuit. But Thursday, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the rules “were making cars more expensive and impeding safety because consumers were being priced out of newer, safer vehicles.”

“We will not let political agendas in a single state be forced upon the other 49,” Chao said.

But the affect of other states on Connecticut is one reason Connecticut embraces the stricter regulations.

“Being downwind, Connecticut already combats the effects of lower quality air from less regulated neighboring states — resulting in some of the worst asthma rates in the nation. This decision will only exacerbate the problem and lead to higher air pollution and increased health risks for our families,” said Governor Ned Lamont.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said its authority to set nationwide fuel economy standards pre-empts state and local programs.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra cited a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that rejected the NHTSA’s argument that greenhouse gas emission standards under the Clean Air Act interfered with its ability to set fuel economy standards.

“The Oval Office is really not a place for on-the-job training. President Trump should have at least read the instruction manual he inherited when he assumed the Presidency, in particular the chapter on respecting the Rule of Law,” Becerra said in a statement.

Federal regulators said the regulation would not impact California’s programs to address “harmful smog-forming vehicle emissions.”

Joining California in the lawsuit are attorneys general from Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

The cities of New York and Los Angeles and the District of Columbia also joined the lawsuit.

The lawsuit highlighted a day of climate-related action by California leaders, which included an executive order from Newsom directing state transportation officials to consider climate goals in their planning and direct money where possible to programs that will reduce reliance on cars.

Newsom’s order, issued Friday morning, also calls on pension funds for state employees and teachers to consider climate risk when making its investments. The pension fund already considers climate risk and the University of California has said it will divest its endowment and pension funds from fossil fuels.

Alex Jackson of the National Resources Defense Council called the order welcome but said he’d like to see more action instead of goal-setting.

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