‘There is nothing safe about this proposal.’ California leaders vow to fight EPA

California’s leading air pollution enforcers and the state’s attorney general vowed to fight the Trump Administration’s proposed lessening of vehicle emission rules during a public hearing in Fresno on Monday.

“There is nothing safe about this proposal,” said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board.

Nichols described the Trump Administration proposal as nothing more than “muscle flexing.” And she called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw it. California has led the nation in embracing and supporting clean air technology, she said, and the state “will not sit idly by as you try to flat line our efforts.”

The Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule would freeze fuel economy and tailpipe emissions standards at 2020 levels for passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2021 to 2026. It also challenges California’s state authority to regulate its own emissions standards to reduce greenhouse gases. California’s standards are more stringent and include requirements for automakers to sell a certain number of electric cars.

Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, center, with Drew Bohan, executive director of California Energy Commission, left, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, right, during a hearing in Fresno in September on the Trump administration’s proposed relaxation of greenhouse gas rules. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

The U.S. EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have said easing emissions standards would keep the cost of cars down, encouraging people to get rid of older, polluting vehicles for newer, cleaner models. Opponents of the Trump Administration’s proposal said rolling back emissions standards would increase harmful pollutants and threaten public health.

Outside the meeting, Nichols said she believes the Trump Administration believes its plan is going to save money for the auto industry. “And I think this is coming from the president,” she said. But automakers are “saying the current standards are OK,” she said. The industry only says they want a little more time and flexibility to comply, she said.

Automakers: Climate change is real

Representatives of the auto industry also spoke at the hearing in Fresno.

Automakers believe climate change is real and are taking action to reduce carbon emissions in new vehicles, said Steven Douglas, senior director of energy and environment for The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an association of 12 of the largest automakers and the leading advocacy group for the auto industry.

About 500 vehicle models achieve 30 miles per gallon or more on the highway, and 80 of the models get 40 mpg or more, Douglas said. There are 45 hybrid-electric vehicles and more are on the way to market. But Douglas said continued support for improvements in fuel economy must account for consumer acceptance. “No one wins if our customers are not buying the new highly efficient products offered in our showrooms. The standards must account for consumer willingness and ability to pay for newer technologies in order for all the benefits of new vehicles to be realized.”

Douglas urged California and the federal government to work together to “find a common-sense solution that sets continued increases in vehicle efficiency standards while also meeting the needs of America’s drivers. One National Program enables us to keep new vehicles affordable, so more Americans can replace older vehicles with models that are cleaner, safer and more energy-efficient,” he said.

Remaining stops in Dearborn, Pittsburgh

The hearing in Fresno, which was expected to last at least 12 hours, is the first of three nationwide being held to hear from the public about the Trump Administration’s proposed vehicle emission rules. Hearings will be held Tuesday in Dearborn, Michigan, and Wednesday in Pittsburgh. About 130 people, many from the Bay Area, Southern California and some from other Western states, signed up to speak in Fresno. People have until Oct. 30 to submit written comments to the EPA.

Linda Dunn, a Tesla owner from Clovis, chants as she joins other clean car advocates gather outside The Grand for the EPA/National Traffic Safety Administration hearing on the Trump Administration’s proposed vehicle emissions standards on Monday morning, Sept. 24, 2018. JOHN WALKER jwalker@fresnobee.com

During her testimony, Nichols said Fresno was an appropriate location for the meeting on the proposed rollback of tailpipe emissions standards. “This is ground zero for the most stubbornly persistent violations of air standards,” she said. The San Joaquin Valley has among the worst smog and particulate pollution in California and the U.S.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra testified that the state has stringent air standards for a good reason. “We don’t do this because it’s easy or it feels good,” he said. “We do this because 26 percent of school-aged children here in the San Joaquin Valley suffer from asthma. We do it because the five largest fires in California history occurred in the last five years.”

Climate change also is a factor in California’s opposition to the Trump Administration proposal. California cannot back away from its fight against climate change, Becerra said. “We must continue to tackle the No. 1 source of greenhouse gas emissions: our vehicles.”

Becerra said his message to the EPA: “Do your job. Withdraw this proposal. Fulfill your duty under federal law to protect all Californians and Americans from harmful greenhouse gas emissions and to conserve energy.”

‘California will object to it at every step’

California EPA Secretary Matthew Rodriguez spoke at the meeting against the federal EPA proposal. California has led the nation in cleaning the air and 12 other states and the District of Columbia have joined in adopting the regulations, he said. The proposed regulations are not supported by science or technology, Rodriguez said. “You can be assured California will object to it at every step.”

Matt Rogers represented U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris. “Rolling back the federal fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards will jeopardize our efforts to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” he said. “The Administration’s decision is not based on scientific evidence whatsover. It would result in job losses and cost Americans money at the pump.”

Rogers said Harris has led 34 Senate colleagues in a resolution affirming one national program and defending state authority under the Clean Air Act to protect citizens from harmful air pollution. “Now is the time to accelerate innovation forward toward a cleaner future, not threaten our health and our environment by rolling back these standards,” he said.

Health on their mind

Numerous people spoke about the health effects of air pollution.

Dr. Alex Sherriffs, a Fowler doctor who is a member of the California Air Resources Board, said California and the federal government have to work together to fight greenhouse gases. This year has set records for wildfires in California, which led to the worst particulate pollutions for decades in the San Joaquin Valley. “Science tells us that climate change clearly is lengthening our wildfire season and our current wildfire behavior,” he said.

Sherriffs said the San Joaquin Valley’s annual premature mortality deaths from air pollution are measured in the hundreds. “We cannot afford to move backwards away from achievable goals,” he said.

Clare Statham, a Fresno grandmother of three, said two of her grandchildren have asthma and in the past three years she has developed symptoms. Statham said she wants the federal government to think about how reducing fuel economy standards would affect their children and grandchildren. Stringent fuel-efficient standards for cars are not too expensive when compared to medical costs, such as those incurred from two of her granddaughter’s emergency room visits, she said. “Please learn those facts before you define what ‘too expensive’ means.”

Alicia Contreras, the national organizing deputy director for Mi Familia Vota, came from Phoenix to speak at the hearing. Contreras said rolling back emissions standards would particularly harm minority communities who live in urban areas and already experience high levels of air pollution. “We think about the environment and what these rollback changes are going to do and how it will affect our Latino families,” she said.

“This is an economic justice issue,” she said.

Opponents of the EPA proposed emission standards began gathering about an hour before the meeting inside the old Pacific Gas & Electric building in downtown Fresno.

Linda Dunn of Clovis said she wanted to show her support for electric vehicles. Dunn said her entire family drives electric cars. “We like clean air,” she said.

Lucy Clark came from Kern County. “After 40 years of living in the Valley, I have developed adult onset asthma,” she said. “I don’t want the waiver that California has to be removed by this program. We need our clean regulations for clean air not just for old folks, but for our children.”

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter
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