Science

California air regulators say Scott Pruitt didn’t tell the whole truth to Congress

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) says EPA administrator Scott Pruitt mischaracterized the current working relationship between the two agencies during his testimony today on Capitol Hill. The discrepancy comes at a time when the EPA is considering revoking California’s waiver granted under the 1970 Clean Air Act, which gives the state (and CARB) authority to set its own emissions and air quality standards independent from those set by the EPA.

Pruitt announced on April 2nd that the EPA was overturning Obama-era vehicle emissions standards, and was also “reexamining” California’s waiver as the agency works with the Department of Transportation to set new standards. Today, at two Congressional hearings, amidst a barrage of questions about his spending, policies, and various scandals, Pruitt was asked about the EPA’s plans regarding California’s waiver to the Clean Air Act.

Pruitt, who was not under oath, would not say whether the EPA will revoke the waiver during either testimony. But he painted a picture of collaboration with the California Air Resources Board. Pruitt said he sent EPA representatives to meet with the CARB about the April 2nd decision, as well as the forthcoming rule proposal. In the morning, he told Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) that the EPA is “working very diligently and diplomatically” with CARB; in the afternoon, he told Rep. Ken Calvert (D-CA) that the two sides are in “active discussions” about the fate of the waiver.

“We have a role to play, and so does California. And that collaboration is important. We’re committed to it, we dedicate our resources to it, and we’ll continue to work through the process to try to achieve commonality and an answer for both California and those states and our agencies,” Pruitt said.

CARB disagrees with this assessment, according to Stanley Young, the agency’s communications director. He confirms that EPA officials met with CARB before the EPA published its decision on April 2nd, but says that those meetings were “notably unsubstantive,” and that nothing new has transpired in the weeks that followed.

“We never received any materials from EPA or NHTSA in advance of the Final Determination announcement on April 2,” Young said in an email to The Verge. “We have not received any materials since then, have had no meetings since then, and have received no invitations to any meetings on this subject.”

“Pruitt himself has never met with anyone from CARB — even when he was in the State in March just days before the April 2 Final Determination release,” he added. “This is not, by any stretch of the definition, ‘working with California.’” Young says that CARB would like to collaborate with federal agencies in order to develop consistent standards. The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.

“It’s disappointing that Administrator Pruitt, despite his claims, is not engaging with CARB on this important issue in a substantive way,” Rep. Matsui told The Verge in an emailed response to CARB’s comments. “Ensuring that we maintain one strong emissions program for the entire country not only provides public health benefits and helps consumers, but also gives automakers certainty.” Rep. Calvert could not be reached for comment in time for publish.

California’s waiver could be crucial in the months to come as the EPA writes up new standards for model year 2022–2025 cars. The current EPA has said that the emissions standards in place for those years are too high for a variety of reasons, and so it’s likely that the new rules will be less stringent. But California isn’t likely to budge as long as it has its waiver, and 12 other states already follow the strict standards that California has set forth.

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