Donald Trump pollutes America with California scheming

California is an impressive place. It is home to Hollywood, Silicon Valley and, in the estimation of Forbes magazine, six of the world's 10 most innovative companies.

President Donald Trump, however, is out to convince people that California is a problem.

There recently for a campaign fundraiser, Trump bashed the Golden State for its homelessness and pollution. In the past, he has attacked its film industry as racist, its forestry management as inept and its tech industry as anti-Republican.

For the most part this is a harmless, if credulity-stretching, exercise. But one of Trump’s tirades has real-world consequences. He is turning federal agencies inside out and upside down to punish California for its efforts on climate change.

The Trump administration recently said that it would revoke California's authority to impose auto pollution standards tougher than those emanating from Washington. At the same time, he has the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation sending the state nasty letters over pollution issues and threatening to cut off its highway funding.

Think that one through for a moment. Washington revokes California’s ability to impose tough auto emissions standards, then tries to punish it for having significant air pollution.

That is not policy. That is retribution. It's a petty and vain president miffed at California’s rejection of him. It's a president angered by the fact that the state has the size and clout — as the world’s fifth largest economy — to impact national, even global, policy on a range of issues, including the types of cars that are made and sold.

A rally in Sacramento, California, on Sept. 20, 2019.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

EPA: Our goal is to improve California’s air quality

California’s authority to set tougher auto emission standards goes back as far as the Nixon administration and reflects the state’s unique, geography-based struggles with air pollution. Southern California’s air is constrained by ocean winds from the west and mountains to the east. Much of the state’s interior is in valleys so effective at trapping pollutants that Fresno, Bakersfield and even tiny Visalia are among the seven California communities that rank among the nation's 10 most polluted cities.

Much to Trump’s dismay, in reducing traditional auto air pollutants, California also targets climate-altering carbon. To a large degree, this is because the two issues are inseparable. One way to reduce ozone, for instance, is to get more people into electric cars, hybrids or simply into vehicles that are smaller or more efficient.

But California, in concert with 13 other states and Washington, D.C., is also clear that it its auto standards are about taking some tentative steps on climate change that the Trump administration won’t. The two sides are locked in litigation over Trump’s move to revoke California’s power.

For the sake of the planet, we certainly hope California prevails. But it’s also worth noting that the administration’s decision to sic its DOT and EPA on California is an abuse of power. It comes on top of a wildly inappropriate decision to have the Justice Department investigate four auto companies that agreed to comply with California’s standards. And it makes a mockery of the GOP’s traditional deference to states and criticism of Washington meddling.

California, while not without its problems, has been a laboratory of innovation and an engine of economic growth. It makes no sense for Washington to simultaneously criticize those problems and restrict the state's ability to address them.

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