Legal ‘war’ promised if Trump tries to clip California’s right to set air standards

California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols in a 2014 file photo.
(Carl Costas / For The Times)

Any attempt to prevent California from setting its own clean air transportation standards would provoke “a war with many states lining up on California’s side,” Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, said Friday.

“I can’t say which court we would sue in or where” but CARB will aggressively oppose any attempts by the Trump administration to revoke the state’s right to set clean air standards separate and stricter than the federal government’s rules, Nichols said at a Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in Palo Alto.

CARB was created in the 1960s under Gov. Ronald Reagan. In 1967, federal law specifically allowed smog-choked California to set stricter standards.


Since then, automakers modified the cars they sold in California to meet the rules, but standards were effectively unified by the Obama administration as part of the federal government’s auto industry rescue during the Great Recession.

The Trump administration is considering giving automakers permission to backtrack on their commitments to achieve certain improvements in gasoline mileage and cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. Manufacturers now argue the requirements are too inflexible and technologically too hard to meet.

Nichols said she believes automakers don’t want to scrap clean air laws and prefer standards to be harmonized throughout the 50 states. But CARB, she said, has no intention of loosening its clean air regulations.

Currently, nine other states are following California’s lead with laws that effectively mandate increasing numbers of zero-emission vehicles.

Twitter: @russ1mitchell