If an environmental regulation falls in the legislative forest of Washington, DC and California refuses to hear it, does it really make a sound? We’re about to find out.
If it were a country, California—with nearly 40 million people calling it home and a GDP of $2.4 trillion—would be the second most-powerful nation in North America. Measured by economic strength, it would be the sixth most-powerful nation on Earth.
For several decades, the Golden State has of necessity deployed its formidable resources to exert leadership in the establishment of new environmental protection standards and regulations. Pick any benchmark in the greening of America—from the Clean Air Act, fuel economy standards for motor vehicles and curtailing emissions from coal-burning power plants to the conversion of a carbon-based electric power system to renewables—and you can be sure that California not only got there first, but through its sheer size and forward-thinking determination dragged the rest of the U.S. along with it on its quest for a clean-energy future.
But now the stage is set for an epic battle between California and the federal government over who has the final say on environmental regulations. [Spoiler Alert: the BF betting line says CA is a 2-1 favorite.]
President Trump, who pledged to end “the war on coal,” has taken a chainsaw to a Redwood Forest of Environmental Protection Administration regulations enacted under eight of his predecessors in the Oval Office, going back to Richard Nixon’s signing of the legislation that created the EPA on New Year’s Day 1970.
We don’t have three hours here to go down the list of critical environmental protections the president is trying to destroy. Suffice it to say he wants to take us back to the 1950s, when smog and cigarette smoke blotted out the sun.
Ivanka’s apparently convinced her dad not to tear up the Paris Climate Change Treaty (Jared had to take a break to talk to the FBI), but Trump’s gesture to his entrepreneurial daughter is meaningless. The Paris Climate deal is toothless, a set of voluntary targets for which there is no penalty for failure. In just the first trimester of his presidency, Trump has set America on a course to exceed its share of carbon emissions, especially with his decision to reverse the Obama Administration’s mandate to phase out coal-fired power plants.
California Gov. Jerry Brown, meanwhile, wants to put on his cape and revive an earlier iteration of himself—the one that pioneered most of the EPA mandates we now take for granted during his first eight-year stint as governor in the 1970s (he had a lot more hair back then).
Brown has done everything short of declaring war to let Washington know it’s in for a heavyweight fight. He’s hired former Attorney General Eric Holder to lead CA’s battalion of lawyers into federal court for what may become a landmark Supreme Court decision on state’s rights (and yes, Clarence Thomas will be the deciding vote). Brown has defiantly declared that California will still meet its goal of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2045.
Brown also has promised to make this an international as well as a national fight—he’s conducting his own foreign policy. The environmental ministers of Canada and Mexico went to San Francisco last month to sign a global agreement, drafted largely by California, to lower planet-warming greenhouse pollution. Brown will fly to China next month to meet with climate leaders there on a campaign to curb global warming (the CA governor is trying jumpstart a global cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions). Holder, meanwhile, is preparing his division of state lawyers to battle any attempt by Washington to weaken California’s automobile pollution emission standards.
Ironically, the battle between the Trump Administration and Brown may hinge on a waiver on automotive fuel-economy standards that Nixon granted to his home state four decades ago. The 37th president, who grew up in the smoggy air of Southern California, agreed to let the Golden State set its own requirements. The new EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, is signaling that he soon may cancel CA’s waiver.
This heavyweight fight is shaping up to be the tag-team match of the new century. A verdict by the Supreme Court most likely will not be delivered before California has an opportunity to change what military strategists call “the facts on the ground” by rallying other states—and major industries—to follow its lead.
For example, the leading automakers generally are applauding President Trump’s intention to roll back the stringent fuel-economy standards (fleet-wide averages of 54 MPG by 2025) the industry agreed to with the Obama Administration. But if California and a bevy of other states stand firm on meeting those standards, the automakers will be confronted with the reality of having to produce two sets of each vehicle model to service the U.S. market, which will have a huge impact on the bottom line for GM, Ford, Toyota et al. Wanna bet they choose to make one version of each model and sell it all over the country?
Everyone is going to have to pick a side, and we won’t have a lot of time to decide where we stand. Did we mention there’s an iceberg the size of Wales about to break off from the ice shelf in Western Antarctica?
Should environmental regulations and targets be rolled back or eliminated?