Washington state will join in the legal challenge to the Trump administration’s upcoming move to block states from setting tougher vehicle-emission standards.

Washington has partially adopted California standards developed through a waiver to the 1970 federal Clean Air Act, and, thus, has a stake in what is shaping up to be a clash over the future of the U.S. automobile industry.

President Donald Trump, in a Wednesday tweet, asserted that his administration would withdraw the waiver in an action he contended would result in safer, less expensive cars. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the action would overstep the federal government’s legal authority, and in a statement said the state will sue.

” … If the Trump Administration has its way, Washingtonians will be left with fewer options for cleaner, more efficient cars that get more gas mileage or use no gas at all. That means driving would cost more and pollute more,” Ferguson said in written statement.

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California officials also have announced their intent to sue to protect the waiver, and legal actions also may be launched by some or all of the 10 other states, along with the District of Columbia, that have gotten EPA’s approval to follow California standards. Some of these states follow all of the California standards. Others, including Washington, have opted out of a requirement that automotive manufacturers market a certain percentage of electric or other zero-emission vehicles.

The Trump administration decision to revoke the California waiver is part of a broader push to weaken emission standards for the U.S. automotive industry, which produces vehicles that are a major source of the nation’s greenhouse-gas emissions that scientists say are driving climate change.


The Obama administration approved requiring automakers, by model-year 2025, to manufacture vehicles with an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon. The Trump administration earlier this year proposed slashing that requirement to close to 37 miles per gallon.

California, in July, responded by reaching a deal with four automakers — Ford Motor Company, Volkswagen of America, Honda and BMW — that sets a fuel standard of 51 miles per gallon. The Trump administration has opened an antitrust inquiry into that agreement, according to The New York Times.

The legal battle could play out for years in federal courts, perhaps eventually reaching the Supreme Court. Or, if Trump is not reelected, a Democratic president could reverse his action, and the court fight could quickly end.

In the meantime, there is an ongoing political fight in Washington state over how closely to follow the California standards.

Under 2005 legislation, Washington requires auto manufacturers who sell passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks in the state to follow California emission standards, and — since 2010 — to disclose greenhouse-gas emissions for the vehicles.

The 2005 legislation specifically bars Washington from adopting one part of the California emission standards. That rule requires electric or other zero-emission vehicles to make up a certain percentage of manufacturers’ total offerings for sale in the state. A failure to meet the standard could mean financial penalties for a manufacturer, according to Matthew Metz, co-executive director of Coltura, a Seattle- and California-based organization pushing to speed up a transition to electric vehicles to combat climate change.


During the past Washington legislative session, a bill to do away with the Washington prohibition on the zero-electric emission standard passed the Senate. Proponents — including Gov. Jay Inslee — argued it would help to make a broader array of electric vehicles more widely available in Washington. The Association of Global Automakers and the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers opposed the legislation, and it failed to clear the House.

“The governor tried his best, but his ability to make things happen in the Legislature has been a challenge,” said Metz, who lobbied for the bill.

Inslee, in a statement jointly released with Ferguson on Wednesday, said he again will push for passage during the next legislative session.

“We will work with legislative champions to finally pass the Zero Emission Vehicles standard next session …” Inslee said in the statement.

If the bill does pass, the Trump administration could argue that — with the California waiver revoked — Washington no longer has the authority to impose the zero-emission standard.

Metz, in an article scheduled for publication in The Michigan Journal of Environmental & Administrative Law, contends there may be other ways to craft legislation to increase the use of electric vehicles. States could simply require that vehicles sold after a certain date be electric, and such legislation may not need a waiver to the federal Clean Air Act, he says.

Material from The New York Times was included in this report.