By The Columbian Editorial Board
In challenging federal efforts to roll back emissions standards for vehicles, the state of Washington is looking out for the public and the planet.
“The vehicle emissions standards protect the environment and save consumers money with better fuel economy,” state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said recently as Washington joined 16 other states and the District of Columbia in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “The EPA once again is ignoring the needs of consumers, its duty to protect the environment and most importantly, the law.”
The suit challenges a decision by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to alter standards approved by the Obama administration. The guidelines would require new cars and light trucks to be rated at an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. But Pruitt, acting as though his job is to protect car manufacturers rather than the environment, has announced plans to scale back those requirements.
That led to the lawsuit announced last week and led by California. Considering that California’s economy recently surpassed the United Kingdom in terms of gross domestic product and is larger than all but four nations, the state carries considerable weight. As California Gov. Jerry Brown said in announcing the suit: “Pollutants coming out of vehicles, out of the tailpipe, does permanent lung damage in children living near well-traveled roads and freeways. This is a fact. The only way we’re going to overcome that is by reducing emissions.”
There are other benefits to reducing emissions, as well. Among them is combating climate change, which a vast majority of climate scientists say is exacerbated by carbon emissions from human activity. Data show that 2016 and 2017 were the warmest years in recorded history; a report last year from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determined that the Arctic is undergoing the “most unprecedented transition in human history”; and increasingly extreme weather events continue to show the impact of those changes.
It is acceptable for robust debate to follow such assertions. It is not acceptable for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to lead the charge in ignoring that evidence.
Setting aside the proof of a changing climate, it is essential for the EPA to help reduce carbon emissions rather than actively working to make America smoggy again. Strict fuel-efficiency standards will be economical for consumers — a notable advantage as gas prices continue to rise. They also will spur a spike in sales as consumers seek more efficient vehicles, will make U.S. manufacturers more competitive in the global market, and will improve air and water quality.
While such standards are the right thing to do both environmentally and economically, those factors do not necessarily play a role in the lawsuit. Instead, the legal action claims the EPA acted arbitrarily in overturning the clean-car standards, violating its own rules and the Clean Air Act. Notably, all states involved in the suit have Democratic attorneys general, indicating the partisan nature of the issue.
But regardless of the political ramifications, our state is on the right side of history in joining the legal fight. Gov. Jay Inslee said: “One of the most effective ways to drive emissions reductions in the auto industry is to drive innovation through clear, certain and predictable standards.”
That should be the guiding principle for the Trump administration, as well. Washington is wise to hold the federal government to a higher standard.
The above editorial appeared May 9 in The (Vancouver, Wash.) Columbian.