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California joins 16 other states and sues to halt Trump's plan to roll back vehicle emission standards

The lawsuit by California aims to stop the administration from rolling back aggressive national fuel economy standards.

An angry Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday announced a lawsuit by California and 16 other states against the Trump administration to stop it from rolling back aggressive national fuel economy standards championed by the state.

In stinging comments at the Capitol, Brown said actions of the Trump administration were "so outrageous," adding "Trump is definitely running a one-man demolition derby on science, the Clean Air Act and a lot of things we are trying to do."

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Brown called Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt "Outlaw Pruitt," and accused him of "breaking the law."

"He's flouting the Clean Air Act and the legitimate needs and well-being of the American people," the governor said.

The California-led lawsuit filed in federal court seeks to block the EPA's effort to weaken rules requiring cars and SUVs to average nearly 55 miles per gallon by 2025.

The rules are crucial to California and other states meeting their climate action goals, as well as to fulfilling their vow to carry the country toward meeting its obligations under the Paris agreement on global warming. The federal agency has declared the standards are too onerous and need to be reconsidered.

While the administration has yet to announce how far it intends to roll back the mileage targets, a draft of its plan seen by lawmakers shows it is poised to significantly weaken them. The plan the EPA has drafted with the Department of Transportation would reduce the target from 55 miles per gallon to 42 miles per gallon.

It would also revoke the authority California and other states now have to keep in place the stricter, existing targets.

The states argue that the EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously in trying to unravel the aggressive targets, failed to follow its own regulations and violated the Clean Air Act.

"The states joining today's lawsuit represent 140 million people who simply want cleaner and more efficient cars," Brown said. "This phalanx of states will defend the nation's clean car standards to boost gas mileage and curb toxic air pollution."

The lawsuit comes only days after Pruitt assured members of Congress that he was committed to a compromise with California, and would seek mileage targets the state could embrace. But soon after Pruitt made those assurances in congressional hearings, his agency's draft plan surfaced. It showed no intention of brokering a deal, and instead strikes a hostile posture toward California and other states.

Trump was elected on the promise of reducing red tape and regulations for businesses and the EPA has sought to scale back rules on several major industries. "Cooperative federalism doesn't mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country," Pruitt said in a recent statement on the emission standards issue.

Even the auto industry has become unnerved at how aggressively the EPA is going after emissions standards. A Trump administration war on the issue with California, which Brown said Tuesday is "sharpening," threatens to tangle the regulations up in years of litigation, leaving car makers uncertain of what to plan for.

EPA officials declined Tuesday to respond to the allegations in the lawsuit or the name-calling by the governor.

The administration did not respond directly to a question about why it has had such a heavy hand with states, despite the normal deference urged by conservatives.

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"Certainly the administration supports state rights," Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at Monday's press briefing. "In regard to the specific lawsuit, we're reviewing that," she added.

California has been at the forefront of environmental protections for decades and pioneered efforts to regulate tailpipe emissions in the 1970s, when it created the country's first standards for nitrogen oxide emissions from tailpipes.

Starting in 2010 during the Obama administration, the EPA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and California Air Resources Board established a single national program of greenhouse gas emissions standards for model year 2012-2025 vehicles.

That program permits automakers to design and manufacture to a single target, according to state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, who filed the lawsuit.

The attorney general noted that last month the EPA reversed course and claimed that the clean car standards for model years 2022-25 should be scrapped. Becerra said the federal government offered no evidence to support the decision and the expected rules that may weaken the existing 2022-25 standards.

Becerra, who joined Brown at the Capitol to announce what is the state's 32nd legal challenge to the Trump administration, said the existing clean car standards are achievable, science-based and "a boon for hard-working American families."

"Enough is enough," Becerra said. "We're not looking to pick a fight with the Trump administration, but when the stakes are this high for our families' health and our economic prosperity, we have a responsibility to do what is necessary to defend them."

The lawsuit was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and California was joined as a plaintiff by other states including Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Pennsylvania among others, as well as the District of Columbia.

The states that sued represent some 43% of the U.S. automobile market, Brown said.

Brown was in fighting form Tuesday, pounding the podium and blasting Pruitt for "his expensive travel tastes and funny little redecorating plans," a reference to Pruitt taking first-class airline flights and spending tens of thousands of dollars to remodel his office, including installation of a soundproof telephone booth.

The governor said the changes would make the U.S. auto industry less competitive with China and other countries in providing cleaner, more efficient engines.

"This move by Pruitt with the help and encouragement of Trump is not going to make America great," Brown said. "It's going to make America second-rate and probably will jeopardize America's auto industry."

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He noted the Obama administration agreed to the standards with states including California based on two years of study.

"You can't just like some tin-horn dictator say, 'I'm tearing up a rule that is based on a two-year-determination process,'" Brown said.

The states' lawsuit was supported by members of Congress from California including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento).

"The Trump administration cannot ignore the science and the law," Feinstein said.

California has sued the Trump administration on environmental issues more than a dozen times and the state has won each case that has been decided, Becerra said.

The Trump administration's pending plan to freeze the fuel economy targets at 42 miles per gallon and pre-empt California's ability to set its own emissions standards, meanwhile, drew a scolding Tuesday by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Carper cited a leaked copy of the EPA proposal, which he said argues that "states may not adopt or enforce tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions standards when such standards relate to fuel economy standards and are therefore preempted" by federal law.

"Such a proposal, if finalized, would harm U.S. national and economic security, undermine efforts to combat global warming pollution, create regulatory and manufacturing uncertainty for the automobile industry and unnecessary litigation, increase the amount of gasoline consumers would have to buy, and runs counter to statements that both of you have made to Members of Congress," Carper wrote in a letter Tuesday to Pruitt and Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

Times staff writer Noah Bierman contributed to this report. Halper and Bierman reported from Washington.

Twitter: @mcgreevy99

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