The message was plain and simple: Don’t tread on California when it comes to the state’s ability to control vehicle emissions.
“What is being proposed by the federal government is a non-starter for us,” said state Attorney General Xavier Becerra after telling a Sept. 24 EPA/National Traffic Safety Administration hearing that California will not accept a proposal to weaken vehicle emissions standards or to eliminate the state’s authority to regulate its own emissions standards.
“We’re moving forward, whether it’s the court where we can win, or in the court of public opinion,” said Becerra, one of more than 130 people who spoke for or against the Trump administration proposal during a lengthy hearing held at The Grand in downtown Fresno.
Most people – including Becerra, California Air Resources board chair Mary Nichols, and, Cal EPA secretary Matthew Rodríguez – lashed out against the federal efforts to whittle away at an anti-pollution program that has become the leader in the country.
“California has long been a pioneer in battling air pollution,” said Cal EPA director Matt Rodríguez, the first one to testify before a panel representing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Traffic Safety Administration. “Twelve states and the District of Columbia had adopted California’s regulations.
Mary Nichols, chair of the state Air Resources Board, criticized the acronym for the proposal – SAFE, or Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicle Rule.
“There is nothing safe about this proposal,” said Nichols, who asked the federal agencies to keep the standards in place. “This proposal blows a hole in our effort to meet health-based standards.”
The Trump administration claims auto makers would thrive under a less-restrictive standard. A spokesman for the auto industry, in his testimony, said he hopes the state and federal government can reach a workable solution. Car buyers, he noted, have benefited from increased mileage that has long been spearheaded by California, but that the public needs to support cleaner vehicles through purchases.
Becerra, who has waged dozens of lawsuits against the Trump administration, spoke confidently about California’s rights to set anti-air pollution standards for the rest of the nation.
“California didn’t become the fifth-largest economy in the world by spectating,” said Becerra. “We didn’t wait for the pollution to overtake us.”
Becerra said the state has proven that being tough on pollution does not cripple the economy.
“You can do both. It’s not one of the other,” he said.
California didn’t become the fifth-largest economy in the world by spectating. We didn’t wait for the pollution to overtake us.
State Attorney General Xavier Becerra
“Pollution is not an option for California. It is not an option where one out of every four kids who live in the area, the San Joaquín Valley, suffer from asthma,” said Becerra, whose in-laws live in Fresno. “We can’t go back to the old ways of the 20th century.”
Samuel Molina, state director of Mi Familia Vota, opposes the federal efforts to “throw America’s clean car standards in reverse and launch an unprecedented attack on our health.”
Molina said the federal efforts will result in dirtier-running cars, more pollution, more health problems and more costs as vehicle gas mileage drops.
“This move would also deny vulnerable communities and communities of color – who are disproportionately harmed by air pollution – the promise of cleaner air and healthier communities,” said Molina, who had his first asthma attack while a senior in his high school economics class.
“As an asthmatic, I completely understand the necessity for the Clean Power Plan and the importance of cutting our emissions so that our children can breathe cleaner air,” said Molina.
Juan Carlos Pérez, director of advocacy for the Washington, D.C.-based Green Latinos, said the Latino community is increasingly become more pro-environment because they are “disporportionately impacted” by pollution.
Pérez joined a demonstration outside the building where the hearing took place to show support for California’s standards.
Becerra said California will continue to move forward, thanks to the efforts of Gov. Jerry Brown and others.
“We have to do it if we are going to have the No. 1 agricultural industry, the No. 1 manufacturing industry, the No. 1 technology industry, the No. 1 entertainment industry,” said Becerra. “We’ve got to move forward with 21st century technology.”