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Sen. Feinstein suggests Gorsuch would undermine EPA on fuel mileage standards

 (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The heated dispute between California and the Trump White House over aggressive federal fuel mileage standards emerged as an issue in the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Neil M. Gorsuch.

Much to the dismay of California, the Trump administration has put on the shelf fuel rules that would require vehicles to average 54 miles per gallon by 2025. The state, which sees the rules as key to combating climate change and air pollution, is threatening to invoke a federal waiver it argues would allow it to continue enforcing the higher standard. The Trump administration has suggested it could try to block the state from doing that.  

At the Gorsuch hearing, the issue arose as California Sen. Dianne Feinstein grilled the nominee on his broader approach to government and the power of the bureaucracy. Gorsuch is among a group of conservative jurists who advocate limiting the authority of federal regulators to draft rules when there is no clear congressional mandate or when there are conflicting laws on the books.

Feinstein said that approach would prevent Environmental Protection Agency scientists from continuing to update the mileage standards as appropriate.

“What we said in the legislation was science would prevail,” Feinstein said. “That is still the law. It is working. What is wrong with that? How else could we have done it?”

Gorsuch suggested that Feinstein misunderstood his view of when the bureaucracy should be reigned in.

“I am not aware of anything wrong with that,” he said. “I never suggested otherwise.” But then he pointed to an immigration case he had presided over in which there were conflicting laws on the books. His court had ruled that immigration authorities should follow the first of the two laws in such cases, but he said immigration authorities ignored the court’s guidance, creating a legal mess for the immigrant seeking entry into the United States. He suggested the case was an example of the problems that can arise when agencies are given too much deference in how to interpret laws.

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