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President Donald Trump has a message for California: Go drown.
As had been long expected, the Trump administration Wednesday banned California from enacting tougher auto emissions standards, a critical step in fighting global warming (and, as we’ve already seen, the rising tides, forest fires, and storms that will go along with it).
It makes you wonder—whatever happened to “states’ rights”?
Conservatives love “states’ rights” when it suits their ideological interests, from racist Southern Democrats in the 1950s to anti-gay Republicans in the 2010s. But today, the Trump administration announced it was throwing California’s “rights” under the gas-guzzling bus. Seems like as soon as federalism favors left-wing ideological positions, Republicans throw it out the window.
In the face of the Trump administration’s war on climate science, California, in a pact with leading auto manufacturers, set a 54.5 miles per gallon average fuel economy standard, effective in 2025.
This is exactly the sort of coordinated, negotiated action that’s necessary to fight global warming. Cars and trucks are the largest source of carbon-dioxide emissions in the United States. And we can’t just leave it up to the virtuous few to drive cleaner cars; we’re all in this together. California’s emissions standards are a perfect example of good climate policy: achieved with industry cooperation, joined by 13 other states, and applicable to all, not just the virtuous few.
Not only does the principle of “states rights” include the right to institute rules like this, California has a specific waiver, granted as part of the 1970 Clean Air Act, to set standards more stringent than those of the federal government.
So why would a pro-federalism, pro-states-rights, let-the-states-be-the-laboratories-of-democracy administration be opposed?
Well, look no further than Andrew Wheeler, the head of Trump’s EPA, who for nine years was a lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry—in particular, Murray Energy, the coal giant that is a significant campaign donor to Trump.
Not that this is about Wheeler specifically, or Trump for that matter. This actually has nothing to do with them.
This is Republican petro-politics as the game has been played for nearly 30 years now, since Koch Industries started spreading lies about climate science back in 1991 and it became too costly to be a Republican who believed in global warming.
This is about how, in the 2017-2018 election cycle, more than 80 percent of the energy sector’s $8.5 million in donations went to Republican candidates. This is why people say, perhaps too often, that “the Republican Party is the political arm of the fossil fuel industry.”
In Washington, money talks, and bullshit walks—and federalism is bullshit.
What happens now? Lawsuits, of course.
California’s activist attorney general Xavier Becerra—already suing the administration over Trump’s border wall and a host of other issues—has promised to sue here as well.
That lawsuit will probably take at least a year to reach the Supreme Court, which means Trump’s initiative may end up a lot like George W. Bush’s similar move in 2007, when his oil-soaked administration also tried to stop California from implementing stricter emissions rules.
Bush left office before that litigation concluded and Obama’s reversal rendered it moot.
The same fate could await Trump 13 months from now, particularly if Democrats make combatting climate change a mainstream issue, rather than a race to the far left.
Already, 61 percent of Americans say they are worried about climate change; 56 percent think it’s an emergency; 77 percent say they favor regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. These are impressive numbers.
But rather than seize the American consensus on climate change, most Democrats are racing leftward in ways that will surely alienate the very voters who might otherwise be persuaded to join them.
For example, Elizabeth Warren wants to spend $3 trillion to combat global warming. Not to be outdone, Bernie Sanders wants to somehow spend $16.3 trillion. I’m not sure where that money comes from, but I do know that when “fighting global warming” means “paying much higher taxes,” swing voters bolt.
This is a gigantic missed opportunity.
Study after study shows that climate change is an increasingly serious issue for swing voters, and a potential wedge issue for moderates in the five swing states that actually matter in 2020. Overwhelmingly, those moderates oppose actions like today’s. They may not want a five-figure tax hike, but they do want stricter auto emissions, not weaker ones, and they don’t like how corporate lobbyists, in this case from the fossil fuel industry, wield power in Washington.
That power is in sharp relief today, as Republicans abandon the principle of federalism for the profit of their oil industry donors. As far as the GOP is concerned, California can just go and drown.