Press Release

State Attorneys General Denounce Trump Administration’s Attack on States’ Rights Under the Clean Air Act

Unprecedented move targets California’s long-standing authority to set standards for tailpipe emissions.

Washington, D.C. — State attorneys general denounced a final rule announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today that attempts to take away California’s legal authority to regulate pollution from cars and light trucks under the Clean Air Act. Thirteen other states that have adopted clean car standards set by California, as allowed under the law, are also negatively affected by today’s action.

“This latest Trump administration regulatory rollback goes beyond its usual ‘run and hide’ approach to the climate crisis. By revoking California’s waiver to set aggressive and forward-looking fuel efficiency standards, the administration is deliberately impeding states’ efforts to minimize harmful pollutants and ensure their citizens can breathe clean air,” said David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. “Transportation is the nation’s largest source of climate pollution, and the administration is not only failing to confront that reality head-on, but doing so with startling hypocrisy as it tramples on states’ rights. This is astonishingly irresponsible, and unprecedented in the decades-long history of the Clean Air Act.”

The federal Clean Air Act explicitly allows California to set its own standards for vehicle emissions after obtaining a waiver from the EPA. The state’s standards must be at least as protective of public health and welfare as the federal government’s standards. The EPA has granted 100 waivers requested by California over the past 50 years.

Under Section 177 of the Act, other states are permitted to adopt California’s standards. To date, 13 other states — Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — and Washington, D.C. have adopted the California standard. Together these states represent 113 million people (one-third of the United States population), and account for 85 million registered vehicles (approximately one-third of all registered vehicles in the United States).

Today’s action is part of the Trump administration’s effort to roll back the Obama administration’s successful national Clean Car Standards, which were implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by gradually raising fuel efficiency standards for new passenger vehicles and light trucks. The administration has proposed freezing vehicle emissions standards for model years 2021 through 2026, a move that has been sharply criticized by numerous state attorneys general.

Statements from State Attorneys General

  • California: “As President Trump arrives in California to rake in campaign cash, his Administration is preparing to announce his desperate plan to rob our state of its long-standing authority to set vehicle emissions standards. To those who claim to support states’ rights — don’t trample on ours,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “In California, we can’t afford to backslide to the days of dirty air and unregulated emissions. For us, this is about survival. Our communities are screaming for help to address the new normal of devastating droughts and superstorms, wildfires and mudslides. Unlike the Trump Administration, we won’t run scared from global warming. And when you endanger our people, our economy, or our planet, we rise with the full force of the law behind us.”
  • Connecticut: “The more stringent California emissions standards are incorporated into Connecticut law. This is a blatant assault on California’s, and by extension Connecticut’s, right to control vehicle emissions that contribute to climate change and [pollute] the air we breathe,” said Connecticut Attorney General William Tong. “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. The Trump Administration has zero authority or basis to pull the waiver and we are working closely with California and states across the nation and expect to take this fight to court.”
  • Maryland: “Once again, the Trump Administration has come down on the side of polluters instead of the American people,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “California has led the nation in advancing clean air strategies and in addressing our climate crisis. Maryland has adopted California’s vehicle emission standards, and our air and water are cleaner for it. This latest action puts oil company profits first and puts the health of our people and our environment last. We will fight this destructive policy.”
  • Massachusetts: “The Trump Administration’s attack on the [California] waiver is an illegal assault on states’ rights, clean air, and the climate that will cost drivers billions more at the pump,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. “At a moment of global urgency, this administration is asleep at the wheel. It’s time to take away the keys.”
  • New York: “The Trump Administration’s attempt to weaken the Clean Air Act will cause lasting damage to the economy, environment, and health of the American people,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James. “My office will continue to take legal action to allow states to set stronger emissions standards to help reduce carbon pollution, improve air quality, and lower driver transportation costs.”
  • Washington: “With this unlawful move, the Trump Administration has once again demonstrated its callous disregard for the state’s right to protect Washingtonians from the catastrophic effects of climate change.” said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “This rule would hurt our pocketbooks, our health, our environment and our communities. We will not allow the Trump Administration’s dangerous policies to harm Washingtonians.”


About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center:
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan academic center at NYU School of Law. The Center is dedicated to working towards a healthy and safe environment, guided by inclusive and equitable principles. The Center studies and supports the work of state attorneys general (AGs) in defending, enforcing, and promoting strong laws and policies in the areas of climate, environmental justice, environmental protection, and clean energy.