March 24, 2017 / 9:11 PM / 5 months ago

California approves vehicle pollution rules in rebuke to Trump

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (Reuters) - California on Friday challenged the Trump administration's approach to car pollution, approving standards that the White House said still need review and setting up a potential face-off between federal and state regulators.

California Governor Jerry Brown and other state officials have vowed to lead the defense of environmental and other traditionally liberal causes against President Donald Trump.

About a dozen states follow California's car regulations in full or part, and the potential face-off between federal and state regulators could be expensive for automakers and a headache for consumers.

On Friday, the California Air Resources Board in a unanimous vote finalized 2022-2025 vehicle pollution rules for the state, set a mandate for zero-emission sales over the same time period, and ordered its staff to start work on targets for after 2025.

Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it would reconsider the 2022-2025 tailpipe emissions targets after auto makers requested the review.

The Obama administration rushed to finalize the federal standards after Trump's election and car manufacturers said there was not enough time for consideration.

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols chided automakers for requesting federal intervention and questioned whether they wanted to undermine California's authority.

"What were you thinking when you threw yourself on the mercy of the Trump administration to try to solve your problems?" she said. She invited the auto industry to suggest implementation changes that would not undermine the program's goals.

John Bozzella, president and chief executive of the Global Automakers industry alliance, focused on the potential for cooperation, rather than the board's criticism.

FILE PHOTO - A smog testing facility sign is shown marking a garage as a certified testing station for vehicles in Encinitas, California September 23, 2015.Mike Blake/File Photo

"I think we are where we want to be, which is working together," he said. "We're committed to a national program."

A White House official, anticipating the California vote, told Reuters the Trump administration was committed to protecting jobs and providing consumers with affordable cars.

“We are disappointed that California has chosen to refuse our good-faith offer to work together with all relevant stakeholders on this important matter,” the person said.

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A two-track regulatory system would leave consumers with potentially higher prices and could complicate their ability to move cars between states.

The California vote came on the heels of Congressional Republicans pulling consideration of a healthcare system overhaul, a defeat for Trump that appeared to energize the California board.

"If anything, these standards should be more aggressive," board member Daniel Sperling said. The board would need federal approval for a post-2025 plans, but those rules may not be ready for review before the next presidential election.

Federal regulators could try to challenge California's ability to make rules about greenhouse gases. Board member Hector De La Torre compared that to a divorce between federal and state regulators.

"If a divorce is going to happen at some point, we are going to litigate that divorce strongly," he said.

U.S. and California regulators last year projected that stricter pollution controls will add about $1,000 to the cost of each car sold in 2025, with mileage rising from 38.3 miles per gallon in model year 2021 to 46.3 in 2025. Automakers say they did not get enough time to review the study.

Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, Nick Carey in Detroit and Rory Carroll in San Francisco; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Lisa Shumaker

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