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

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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.

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