Great Lakes states join emissions lawsuit

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Six Great Lakes states challenge Trump air rule change. Image: Ruben de Rijcke

By Tasia Bass

Six Great Lake states have joined California in an environmental legal battle with the Trump administration for revoking that state’s power to set auto emission standards.

The administration oversteps its authority with environmental rollbacks, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, said in a recent press release. The administration “fails to respect states’ authority to protect public health and welfare.”

In fact, 23 states have joined California’s lawsuit against the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for rescinding that state’s right to set emission standards more stringent than federal requirements.

In the Great Lakes region, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan are among them, even though only Pennsylvania and New York have adopted California’s standard. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted California’s stricter standards, according to Maryland’s Department of the Environment.

In the official complaint, the states say they are joining the suit to protect their rights as a state and their citizen’s well-being

“It’s the single strongest standard in the transportation sector,” said Tim Minotas, the legislative and political organizer for Michigan’s chapter of the Sierra Club. “It is a step forward in the right direction.”

Although Michigan has yet to adopt the standard, by joining the suit it is fighting another Trump environmental rollback, Minotas said. The lawsuit is one of the several that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has brought against the administration’s environmental policies. She is also challenging the administration’s Affordable Clean Energy rule and Endangered Species Act rollbacks.

The administration’s order would have a huge environmental impact, Minotas said.  It would allow cars to release more carbon emissions – greenhouse gases that trap heat which in turn increases the frequency and intensity of severe weather while affecting which wildlife and plants survive.

Mike Shriberg, regional executive director of the Great Lakes chapter of the National Wildlife Federation, also supports Michigan’s challenge. The California emission standard is part of the fight against climate change, he said. It is on par with emission guidelines many other countries have and the United States is behind.

“The Trump Administration’s rollback of California’s standards and state’s rights is not only an assault on clean air and clean water, but it’s also an attack on Michigan’s economy,” Shriberg said. “California is setting a standard for fuel economy that helps moves our auto companies into the future.”

The Michigan-based auto industry seems to agree. In July 2019, several automakers, including Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen agreed to California’s emission standard. In March 2018, Ford Motor Co, executives said they were committed to investing $11 billion toward clean vehicles.

BMW, Honda and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles say they have all made strides to make cleaner cars.

“We have been clear throughout the federal rule-making process that the current standards need to be adjusted to reflect changing conditions in the marketplace,” said Eric Mayne, media relations manager of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

With the states and the automobile industry agreeing to the California’s emissions standard, what is the benefit of rolling back the standard that could help fight climate change? Trump tweeted that the revocation would allow for cheaper and safer cars. He said that his new emission standard will be similar to California’s, stricter and will create more jobs.

“This will lead to more production because of this pricing and safety advantage, and also due to the fact that older, highly polluting cars, will be replaced by new, extremely environmentally friendly cars,” said Trump in his tweet.

Not everyone agrees that Trump’s plan will help decrease CO2 emissions, and according to Energy Innovation Policy and Technology LLC, could cost consumers $160 billion. Shriberg said that the California emission standard is necessary to help hold off the effects of climate change.

“This future is arriving rapidly due to the impacts of oil and climate change, and the growing response from around the world,” Shriberg said. “We cannot allow the regressive policies of the Trump Administration to send our environment and industry backwards.”

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