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EPA head Pruitt and CARB prepare for showdown over CAFE requirements

With an April 1 deadline looming, Scott Pruitt doubles down on his assertion that California shouldn't make rules for the rest of the US.

A general view of the air pollution over
Air quality is a real concern for many Southern California residents with smog having been linked to numerous respiratory diseases.
Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has made it clear that he doesn't want California setting vehicle emissions standards for the rest of the country and is gearing up for a showdown in the coming weeks to defend that position.

Just as a refresher, the state of California has the unique ability among all the states to set its own air quality standards that go above and beyond that of the EPA. For several years now, the rest of the country has decided to follow California's lead, but the Trump administration wants that to stop in fears that it may be hurting business.

EPA head Scott Pruitt doesn't want California's emissions rules to be America's rules.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"We want to hear from those folks in California and hear from the political leadership and try to make some informed decisions, but also say at the same time, we have a job to do," Pruitt said in an interview with Bloomberg. "We're going to do our job. And if there are steps being taken to impede that, we'll have to address that."

The EPA and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) have been in talks since the end of last year to decide on whether or not to keep the Obama administration's 2009 corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) requirements. These guidelines for vehicle manufacturers would require an average fuel economy of 50 miles per gallon across their fleets by 2025.

Part of that 2009 decision by the Obama administration included a commitment to revisit the decision to see if it needed to be adjusted, something which Obama did just before he left office in January 2017, determining that no changes needed to be made to the targets. Trump's administration has mostly thrown that out in hopes that it can relax the goals in ways that are more friendly to automotive manufacturers.

Air quality is a real concern for many Southern California residents with smog having been linked to numerous respiratory diseases.

Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

"The whole purpose of CAFE standards is to make cars more efficient that people are actually buying," said Pruitt. "If you just come in and try to drive this to a point where the auto sector in Detroit just makes cars that people don't want to purchase, then people are staying in older cars, and the emission levels are worse, which defeats the overall purpose of what we're trying to achieve."

California began its stringent stance on vehicle emissions in the 1970s when smog in Southern California was at an all-time high. Thanks to the implementation of catalytic converters, exhaust gas recirculation devices and air/smog injection pumps, there hasn't been a Stage 1 smog alert since 2003.

It seems that as of late, the state of California has committed to being a thorn in the current administration's side on both the issue of air quality and immigration. Being the world's sixth largest economy affords it the ability to do that in ways that other states cannot, and it will be interesting to see how Pruitt's EPA pushback will affect the way California operates with regard to air quality. We'll find out on April 1, as that is the deadline for the EPA to decide whether to revise the Obama targets.