By: John Sims

Previous posts have described the decades-long efforts by California to deal with the challenge of air pollution.  Automobile-generated air pollution in the Los Angeles area forced California to start developing responses before Congress was ready to take action, and therefore when the Clean Air Act was passed by Congress in 1970 the legislation contemplated that California would continue to set a higher standard for itself than that mandated for the rest of the country.

Although the more demanding standards adopted for vehicles sold in California require sign-off by the Environmental Protection Agency, that has generally not prevented California from taking the lead in fighting air pollution.  Even when a given administration was not willing to take aggressive action itself to protect the air, it did not stop California from doing so.  A California vs. US dispute did arise over greenhouse gases during the administration of George W. Bush, but was quickly resolved once President Obama took office.

A highly informative recent article by Dale Kasler in The Sacramento Bee  gives a detailed history of the Clean Air Act as implemented in California, and calls attention to current tensions that may soon explode into open warfare.  EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is enthusiastically giving effect to President Trump’s hostility toward regulatory efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.  Therefore, as described in detail in the article, there is now a serious risk that the EPA will deny California the certification it needs to fight Global Warming aggressively.

Kasler reports that Pruitt’s decision is expected by April 1.  Any action by the “Environmental Protection Agency” to prevent California from protecting the state’s environment would certainly fit well within the spirit of April Fool’s Day.

In a related development, on March 7 the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected a creative effort by the U.S. Department of Justice to obtain “mandamus” (essentially an emergency court order) to prevent the federal district court in Oregon from moving ahead with its planned trial in the Juliana case.  Young plaintiffs are challenging various federal policies that contribute to Global Warming and threaten their future.  The district judge concluded that the plaintiffs’ case is substantial enough to go to trial, and it is expected that the proceeding will involve extensive expert scientific testimony.

The federal government is desperate to prevent the trial because it will inevitably attract further attention to the issues surrounding Global Warming, but at least so far it has been unable to find a procedural mechanism to derail the lawsuit.  The mandamus request was denied.