Trump Sues California for Reducing Air Pollution

The Trump Administration is suing California for its cap-and-invest agreement with Canada’s Québec province that would decrease emissions from fossil fuels and limit air pollution. This lawsuit endangers other states’ abilities to implement their own emission-reduction programs and combat climate change.

The Department of Justice claims that California acted illegally by entering into an agreement with a foreign country in order to reduce air pollution from greenhouse gases. The lawsuit claims that the Constitution prohibits states from making their own agreements with foreign governments.

States’ efforts to contain emissions and mitigate climate change have been under attack by the Trump Administration. Recently, it rescinded a ruling that allowed California to set more stringent car emissions standards than the federal government. California responded with a lawsuit of its own. The EPA also recently proposed changes to the Clean Water Act that would limit states’ abilities to enforce the Act.

Cap-and-invest works by setting a yearly limit (cap) on carbon emissions from oil refineries, cement plants, and related industries. They can satisfy this limit by either reducing emissions or buying permits auctioned by the state that let them continue to release emissions. These permits are traded, or invested, in a free market system. When the emissions cap is lowered, it is anticipated that companies will reduce carbon emissions instead of continuing to pay for permits to pollute.

California first implemented a cap-and-invest program in 2013 in order to meet its goals for reducing pollution. The program’s impact must increase substantially if California is to reach its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The agreement with Canada makes deeper cuts in emissions, and stronger pollution-reduction goals, possible.

Despite the accusation in the administration’s lawsuit, one expert’s reading of California’s agreement shows that it is not an international treaty, but a memorandum of understanding.

Opinions differ on the outcome of the federal lawsuit. If it succeeds, the impact may be felt beyond California and will have a negative effect on combatting climate change. Experts say that if the lawsuit succeeds, it may discourage other companies to do business with the state and may endanger California’s effort to demonstrate that local governments can contain climate change in the face of opposition and denial by the Trump administration.

The case also has the potential to change federal and state relationships and redefine how states may operate internationally. 

California Governor Newsom reacted by saying that cooperation across borders is even more necessary due to the Trump Administration’s record of climate denial and supporting major polluters.

Even if the Justice Department’s lawsuit is successful, California and Québec will continue to operate their cap-and-invest systems independently. 

NYLCV will continue to advocate for programs that reduce emissions on the federal and state level, as well as policies that uphold states’ ability to combat climate change.