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States Sue To Keep Emissions Standards


The state of California and 17 others sued the Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency yesterday. They're trying to stop a plan to weaken federal auto emissions standards put in place by the Obama administration to mitigate the effects of climate change. California Governor Jerry Brown took direct aim at current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt when he announced the suit.


JERRY BROWN: States representing 140 million Americans are joining together to sue outlaw Pruitt. This is about health. It's about life and death. And this character in Washington is riding roughshod over the laws of this country and the health of our people.

MARTIN: California's attorney general, Xavier Becerra, is leading the lawsuit. Since the Trump administration hasn't formally decided to roll back these standards, I asked the attorney general if this suit is premature.

XAVIER BECERRA: Well, they've taken action to say that the standards that have been in place are no longer valid. And so we're going to do everything we need to do to protect those standards that are national in scope but that California has led for more than 40 years.

MARTIN: So the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has argued that these standards simply don't work; that car manufacturers just realistically, because of the way the market forces are working, aren't going to be able to meet these standards; there's not enough demand for cars with low emissions. You don't agree. Explain why.

BECERRA: Because the EPA and Administrator Pruitt's words don't match the facts. The agreement was that car manufacturers would move towards continued increases in the reduction of greenhouse gases and also the increase in gas mileage for vehicles. And so far, these auto manufacturers had been meeting those goals that were set out in these standards. For, all of a sudden, Administrator Pruitt to say that they can't be done - well, the facts show otherwise.

MARTIN: This is not just California. Sixteen other states plus the District of Columbia have joined this lawsuit. As I understand it, though, not all these states adhere to the high emissions standards that are in place in your state. So why did they join?

BECERRA: California has been seeking to enforce higher standards since the early 1970s. A lot of states have, over those decades, joined us. And in 2010, the federal government joined with many of these states and said, let's come up with one broad set of standards that everyone would work under. And that was a great agreement that we were able to strike in 2010. Many states now are matching everything that California's doing. And we, in fact, as I said, back in the 1970s, started this and got an exemption and a waiver from the federal government to be able to do more than what the federal government had been asking back in the 1970s moving forward.

MARTIN: As you noted, since the 1970s, California's been operating under this exemption that allows the state to set its own emissions standards. Do you have reason to believe you could lose that exemption?

BECERRA: There are some clear signs that this administration and the EPA itself have taken steps to undermine the ability of the nation to have as clean air as possible and to be able to enforce the rules that are in place. We will fight to make sure that California and the country have an opportunity to keep the air as clean as possible for our kids.

MARTIN: You have filed more than a dozen lawsuits against the Trump administration on just environmental issues alone. That's not even taking into consideration the lawsuits California has filed on other issues, including immigration. Governor Jerry Brown said that California's conflict with the federal government is, quote, "sharpening." What is the upshot of that for residents of your state, for California to be embroiled in this battle with the federal government?

BECERRA: So California has taken a direction in this country that has led to more jobs being created in our state than any other, greater economy than any other state. All of that has led us to become the economic engine for the country, in fact, the sixth-largest economy now in the world. We're 40 million strong. And we don't want to start undoing the thing that has given us this chance to succeed for our people. And when anyone tries to attack that, including the Trump administration, we will defend ourselves. And that's why we've had to sue the Trump administration for the 32nd time.

MARTIN: Xavier Becerra is the attorney general for the state of California.

Thank you so much for your time.

BECERRA: Rachel, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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