Op-Ed: EPA threatens to pull highway funds over California's air quality

Posted Sep 24, 2019 by Karen Graham
The Trump administration on Tuesday blamed California’s worst-in-the-nation air quality on shoddy paperwork, calling on the state to overhaul its plans for cleaning up toxic smog or risk losing billions in federal road dollars.
File picture shows the Los Angeles skyline
File picture shows the Los Angeles skyline
Frederic J. Brown, AFP/File
It may be hard to believe, but the Trump administration is escalating the growing fight over federal gas mileage rules for cars and trucks - and you could say it all amounts to a bunch of sour grapes.
In a letter to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on Tuesday, reports the Detroit News, the Environmental Protection Agency said that "California has failed to carry out its most basic tasks under the Clean Air Act."
The government's warning comes just days after the Trump administration moved to block the state's emission standards for cars and trucks, a move that would eliminate California's most important weapon for combating its biggest source of pollution, according to the Associated Press.
In his letter, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler proceeded to chastise California for its backlog of pending rules and regulations to reduce pollution in areas that don't meet federal air quality standards. The letter actually puzzled state regulators because the backlog exists because the EPA has not approved any of the plans that have been submitted.
"California has failed to carry out its most basic responsibilities under the Clean Air Act, and as a result, millions of Californians live in areas that do not meet our nation's air quality standards," Wheeler said in the letter. He added the agency is ready to work with California to fix air quality issues, but threatened consequences if the state does not act.
File photo: EPA s Andrew Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist.
File photo: EPA's Andrew Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist.
CARB responded to Wheeler's letter saying, "The letter from the EPA contains multiple inaccuracies, omissions, and misstatements. EPA has unclean hands: It sat on these documents for years and is now pounding the table about paperwork issues of its own creation."
CARB added, "We will continue to do work with EPA on its backlog, but EPA also needs to do its job and protect air quality. California and other states had to go to court, repeatedly, to get the EPA to implement the strict smog standards it claims to be worried about. California has met federal standards in the past and we are working hard to meet the current ones. But we cannot get there until the federal government addresses emissions of federally regulated mobile sources, including heavy-duty trucks, locomotives, planes, and ships."
A little bit of "sour grapes?"
By law, states with dirty air must come up with plans to reduce pollution and submit them to the EPA for approval. The EPA apparently is the agency with the backlog of submitted clean air plans. California has sent the EPA 130 requests, accounting for one-third of all the plans the agency has been sitting on.
Wheeler fired back at CARB, saying most of the plans are "inactive" and have "fundamental issues related to approvability." He asked the state to withdraw the plans and come up with new ones. If they don't, the government would punish the state by withholding federal road dollars. But that punishment involves a process that could take up to 18 months.
One thing is abundantly clear, Wheeler and his EPA are barking up the wrong tree in this silly move. How much faith can the American public put in any government agency that is headed up by hand-picked "Yes men?"