SACRAMENTO–Governor Gavin Newsom’s Administration Friday filed suit in federal court to compel two federal agencies to provide the underlying data and analysis used to support a radical rollback of federal vehicle emission standards that threatens the air quality and health of millions of Californians.
Governor Newsom’s Administration is seeking release of these documents to shine a light on how and why the Trump Administration decided to arbitrarily roll back Obama-era clean air standards, and in doing so, do serious damage to America’s efforts to combat climate change. Unless these documents are made public, California and other supporters of clean air will never know who or what industry players are behind the attempt to weaken clean car rules.
The suit, which was filed by Attorney General Xavier Becerra on behalf of the Newsom Administration and California Air Resources Board (CARB), claims that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) failed to comply with CARB’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in early September 2018.
“We must demand clean air for our kids, and our country must take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, the Trump Administration is willfully withholding information on their ill-advised rollback of federal vehicle emission standards because there is simply no science or logic to back up their actions,” said Governor Newsom.
“Since releasing the proposed rule last summer, the Trump Administration has repeatedly failed to comply with California’s FOIA request, and the reason is clear: They are unwilling to admit that the facts and analysis simply do not support their desired outcome,” said CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols. “This lawsuit will break down their silence and secrecy. The public has a right to see all the facts and analysis used to support a rollback that increases oil consumption, hurts consumers, and pumps more air pollution and hundreds of million tons of climate-changing gases into the atmosphere.”
State officials said the NHTSA and EPA have refused to provide requested information, despite repeated requests. They accused both agencies of “stonewalling” and added that it was unprecedented in California’s decades-long relationship with these federal agencies.
Every other federal administration for the last 50 years has been open and transparent about the data and analysis used to generate new emission-related rules for cars, according to state officials.
In early September 2018, CARB submitted a FOIA request, but NHTSA withheld information with inadequate justification or no justification at all. In December, CARB – following standard FOIA procedure – appealed NHTSA’s determinations and failure to issue the requested information.
To date, NHTSA has failed to respond to the December appeal. The current lawsuit requests that the court compel the Trump Administration to provide the information and to decide whether the federal government may keep that information hidden.
The Trump Administration released its rollback proposal in August. In place of commonsense standards to increase vehicle fuel efficiency and reduce GHG emissions, as federal law requires, the proposal would freeze the standards at the 2020 level through the 2026 model year. The administration’s proposal would likely also block many other states that use California standards from moving forward.
The proposal comes despite the fact that both NHTSA and EPA agreed to the previous standards and that EPA staff did much of the underlying work to support those emissions requirements.
If California were required to follow the federal rollback proposal, global warming emissions could increase by almost 15 million metric tons per year by 2025. That is roughly equivalent to putting an additional 2.8 million cars on the state’s roads for a year. Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), a key smog-forming pollutant in the state, would increase to 430 tons in 2030.
New York’s lawsuit over NHTSA and EPA’s failure to comply with the state’s FOIA request is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
California’s suit was backed by a variety of health, consumer and environmental groups, as well as attorneys general from other states.
“Dirty air already causes too many Americans to suffer from asthma attacks, heart problems and other serious health issues,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “The federal government should not roll back Clean Car Standards that we know can further protect people from harmful pollution and save their lives.”
“Despite our best efforts to keep our patients healthy, climate change is expected to worsen our severe pollution problems in the coming decades and lead to even more harm to our patients, families and communities. That’s why it is so important to my patients in Fresno and beyond that we maintain the strongest possible pollution standards to protect our most vulnerable citizens from climate change impacts,” said Jose Joseph-Vempilly, MD a pulmonologist in Fresno.