Sen. Scott D. Wiener. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)
‘We won’t be intimidated by this brazen political stunt,” Gov. Newsom says
Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) sent a message to President Donald Trump on Friday, after the Trump Administration notified California that it is not meeting its environmental standards:
“Trump telling California it is not doing enough for the environment is like Harvey Weinstein telling someone they’re not doing enough to stop sexual harassment. California has the United States’ strongest clean water standards. Trump, by contrast, is rolling back clean water regulations. Back off, hypocrite.”
Trump Administration Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler recently accused the state of California of failing for decades to “carry out its most basic tasks under the Clean Air Act,” in a recent letter to Mary Nichols, California Air Resources Board Chairwoman.
What is remarkable about this is that the EPA chief says California is dramatically out of compliance with basic clean air compliance procedures. Wheeler says that 34 million Californians are living in areas that don’t meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards, a far greater number than any other state.
Wheeler accused California of having 130 backlog of State Implementation Plans of how California planned to achieve and maintain air quality standards. Wheeler said this backlog goes back decades.
“Most of these SIPs are inactive and appear to have fundamental issues related to approvability, state-requested holds, missing information or resources,” Wheeler said in the letter to the California Air Resources Board.
If California doesn’t act, the federal government and the President said they will withhold federal highway funds. “The White House has no interest in helping California comply with the Clean Air Act to improve the health and well-being of Californians,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press statement. “This letter is a threat of pure retaliation.”
CARB responded to Wheeler’s letter saying, “The letter from the EPA contains multiple inaccuracies, omissions and misstatements. EPA has unclean hands: It sat on these documents for years and is now pounding the table about paperwork issues of its own creation.”
“We will continue to do work with EPA on its backlog, but EPA also needs to do its job and protect air quality,” CARB said. “California and other states had to go to court, repeatedly, to get the EPA to implement the strict smog standards it claims to be worried about. California has met federal standards in the past and we are working hard to meet the current ones. But we cannot get there until the federal government addresses emissions of federally regulated mobile sources, including heavy-duty trucks, locomotives, planes and ships.”
Wheeler said in his letter if California does not withdraw these SIPs, the EPA may step in and develop federal plans to “protect public health” in the state:
“As you know, if the EPA disapproves a SIP, that triggers statutory clocks for:
Highway funding sanctions, which could result in a prohibition on federal transportation projects and grants in certain parts of California;
New source review permitting sanctions; and
A deadline for the issuance of a Federal Implementation Plan.”
Wheeler said the EPA “certainly wants to avoid these statutory triggers,” and added that he expects a response by October 10 from CARB indicating whether it will withdraw its SIPs. CARB’s first response does not appear to have answered this.
“While the White House tries to bully us and concoct new ways to make our air dirtier, California is defending our state’s clean air laws from President Trump’s attacks,” Newsom said. “We won’t go back to the days when our air was the color of mud. We won’t relive entire summers when spending time outside amounted to a public health risk. We won’t be intimidated by this brazen political stunt.”
Katy Grimes, the Editor of the California Globe, is a long-time Investigative Journalist covering the California State Capitol, and the co-author of California's War Against Donald Trump: Who Wins? Who Loses?