Team Trump Threatens to Yank Billions in Fed Cash From California for Not Cutting Air Pollution—but Won’t Let the State Cut Air Pollution

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler
Photo: Win McNamee (Getty)

Does Donald Trump want California to battle air pollution, or not? That’s a question lawmakers there likely have on their minds with the Trump administration’s latest salvo against the politically liberal state.

Last week, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department revoked California’s right to set higher emissions standards in the state’s longstanding bid to fight air pollution.

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This week, that same EPA is threatening to punish California. For what? Why, the state’s chronic air pollution problem, of course, as the Washington Post reports.

“California has the worst air quality in the United States,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler wrote in a letter sent late Monday to California officials, according to the Post.

He complained that many of the state’s plans to fight air pollution “are inactive and appear to have fundamental issues” that would keep the feds from approving them.

It’s a real threat, as the Post explains, because California risks losing billions of dollars in federal highway funds:

The EPA is giving California until Oct. 10 to cooperate. If the state does not, the agency said it will begin disapproving its air quality plans. After that point, the agency can block approvals for industrial operations that want to expand within 18 months, and withhold highway funding within 24 months.

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Experts the Post spoke with saw the “irony” in the Catch-22 the Trump administration seemed to be presenting to a state with which it has long been at odds.

“Isn’t it ironic that EPA is taking away some of the important regulatory tools for meeting the federal health-based standards and then sanctioning California?” Bill Becker of Becker Environmental Consulting told the news site. “It’s like the kid killing his parents and then pleading for mercy because he’s an orphan.”

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In response to the EPA chief’s letter, the California Air Resources Board basically called BS.

Per the Post:

“This letter appeared only days after EPA attacked our state authority on cars, increasing air pollution while at the same time limiting our ability to reduce it,” CARB Executive Officer Richard Corey said in a statement responding to Wheeler’s letter.

California officials have repeatedly argued that they have sought to impose stricter limits on greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles as part of a broader effort to tackle smog in the state.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom called the whole thing a “political stunt.”

“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 in a statement. “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.”​

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