If Trump Is Reelected, California’s Pollution Waiver Is History

It's nowhere near as bad as it used to be, but yes, LA is still a pretty smoggy place.Ringo Chiu/ZUMA

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

Donald Trump, as part of his war against little ol’ California, says he is revoking the state’s waiver to set its own pollution rules under the Clean Air Act. Can he get away with it?

My very tentative guess is yes. This is hardly the first time it’s happened, after all. George Bush refused to approve California’s most recent waiver request in 2007, and only the election of Barack Obama saved it. The same thing might happen this time if Trump loses next year and President Harris instructs the EPA to stand down.

But what if Trump wins? The key phrase in the statutory text is that California must demonstrate that it needs a waiver “to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions,” and back in the day that was pretty easy. LA smog was legendary, after all, and California’s auto standards were aimed specifically at smog-causing pollutants.

Today things are different. California smog is still the worst in the nation, but not wildly so. What’s more, California’s latest auto mileage regulations are aimed more at CO2 than at smog, and it’s hard to make the case that California is uniquely vulnerable to global warming.

That’s not to say that the case can’t be made. But the relevant question isn’t whether the case can be made. The relevant question is whether the Supreme Court’s five Republican justices are likely to accept the arguments of America’s most Democratic state. Call me cynical, but I doubt it. If Trump is reelected, my guess is that California’s waiver is history.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.