Outrage and lawsuits arise from Trump’s attempt to ban emissions control
World-class traffic jam on the Jersey Turnpike, 2013. | joiseyshowaa (Creative Commons)

LOS ANGELES, FORMER SMOG CAPITAL OF THE WORLD—On Wednesday of this week, in the lead-up to the Global Climate Strike this weekend, President Donald Trump upped the ante on his satanic attempt to end civilized life on Earth. In a series of three tweets, he announced his “Administration is revoking California’s Federal Waiver on emissions in order to produce far less expensive cars for the consumer, while at the same time making the cars substantially SAFER. This will lead to more production because of this pricing and safety…

“… advantage, and also due to the fact that older, highly polluting cars, will be replaced by new, extremely environmentally friendly cars. There will be very little difference in emissions between the California Standard and the new U.S. Standard, but the cars will be…

“…far safer and much less expensive. Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business.”

Trump’s trio of tweets contain barely two words in succession that can’t be disputed or simply called out as distortions and lies. Whatever happened to states’ rights? Is a state—the most populous in the nation—now prevented by the federal government from regulating emissions into its own air?

There’s more than one upside to Trump’s announcement, however.

In first place is its utterly transparent function as a shoutout to his donors and base. It shamelessly props up the fossil fuels industry, which politically relies on the GOP for its future. It also positions Trump, now in heightened electoral rally mode, as a foe to liberalism and cities. (At the same time, he and his advance team have been touring California cities with high populations of people forced into homelessness, some by his own policies, in order to point to Democratic urban failure.) He makes it ever more undeniable that his Republicans are the party with zero interest in saving the planet from human-made destruction. Such clarity is good for voters to keep firmly in mind!

Second, after years of suffocating under a blanket of smog in cities such as Los Angeles, California won a waiver from the federal government under the Clean Air Act allowing it to establish state emissions standards. Thirteen states either with similar problems, or anticipating such problems, or rural states such as Vermont which wanted to avoid such problems, adopted California’s stricter vehicle emissions standards. These states will join California in filing suit against the Trump administration on behalf of states’ rights and cleaner air. The Trump “ban” is so far only a tweet: It will take months or years to become uncontested law, if ever.

Third, for many years already, major vehicle manufacturers have signed onto the California standards because they do not want to assume the cost and inconvenience of producing two versions of the same car for different, but integrated domestic and international markets. In fact, not long ago, California secretly negotiated with four major automakers—Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and BMW of North America—to continue abiding by the state’s emissions standards in the knowledge that Trump’s eviscerated Environmental Protection Agency would sooner or later attempt to weaken federal emissions rules.

Manufacturers presently have on the drawing boards models for vehicles that will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by upward of 20% over the next decade. Emissions controls like regulations on oxides of nitrogen or catalytic converters, first adopted in California, are now standard nationwide.

Car-makers are now designing fleets that will average 50 miles per gallon by 2026, contrasted with 37 mpg now. They may not have initiated public health and safety measures in vehicle manufacture, nor ever embraced them enthusiastically, but at the same time, they cannot afford to put those plans on hold waiting for a final court decision. They also know that if the U.S. expects the rest of the world to buy American-made cars, consumers abroad are going to want the most sophisticated new technology, including in emissions reduction. Without conscientious controls, those “JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!” are going to be “GONE, GONE, GONE!”

Climate change has risen to the top, or very near the top of voters’ concerns, especially among younger people, some not even of voting age. Every American has felt the personal and economic cost of environmental disaster. The latest attempt to roll back emissions standards is seen as part of a larger sell-out to the fossil fuels profiteers, and as yet another expression of Trump’s manic obsession to obliterate his predecessor’s achievements in the environmental sphere, as in every other sphere.

As an increasingly solid blue state, which in 2018 tossed out no fewer than seven out of its fourteen GOP members of the House of Representatives, California is a handy punching bag for the president. He knows he will gain no traction in the state in 2020, and may even lose one or more of the seven remaining GOP representatives. So dumping on California and its generally liberal, progressive values is just so much red meat to his fans.

National polling suggests that California’s progressive values on climate and environment, gun control, healthcare, Social Security, women’s reproductive rights, labor and LGBTQ rights, etc., are in fact not freakish outliers but are largely shared by majorities of voters. California Governor Gavin Newsom called the president’s tweet “a failed attempt to assert power…a continuation of a political vendetta against CA and our progress.”

It is, in reality, a vendetta against the entire American people and the people of the world. In a Kaiser Family Foundation/Washington Post Climate Change Survey reported just this past Monday, over two-thirds of Americans say they favor states establishing stricter fuel efficiency goals than the federal government.

There is simply no popular groundswell of support for more smog anywhere.

It is now up to that two-thirds of the American population to express itself, on this issue and on so many others that the president compulsively tweets about. It is crystal clear which side Donald Trump, his Cabinet appointees, his “acting” officials, and the political party he leads stand on. Finally, the only poll that counts is the one on November 3, 2020, when the American people get to say on which side we stand.


Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon, People’s World Cultural Editor, wrote a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein and co-authored composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography. He has received numerous awards for his People's World writing from the International Labor Communications Association. He has translated all nine books of fiction by Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese, available from International Publishers NY.