EPA chief to Newsom: You don't have the power to ban gas-powered vehicles, champ

Get it? Power? EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler rebuked California governor Gavin Newsom yesterday for his executive order barring sales of gas-powered vehicles in the state by 2035. California no longer has the authority to impose such regulations, Wheeler reminded Newsom, and it also lacks the power, literally:

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler wrote to California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Monday, saying he believes California would need to request a waiver from his agency for the order to be implemented and implying that the state’s electricity infrastructure is insufficient for a shift toward electric vehicles.

“While the [executive order] seems to be mostly aspirational and on its own would accomplish very little, any attempt by the California Air Resources Board to implement sections of it may require California to request a waiver to U.S. EPA,” Wheeler wrote.

The EPA last year revoked a waiver that allowed California to set its own vehicle tailpipe emissions standards, so it appears unlikely that the agency would grant one on car sales under the current administration.

The revocation and the reaction to it are another chapter of Wickard v Filburn irony theater. California (along with a number of other states) are challenging the revocation of that waiver in federal court. However, the waiver isn’t an entitlement, and demanding a return of state control as a right contradicts how Democrats have routinely used the EPA to encroach more and more on state jurisdiction on environmental matters. Trump basically wants to use the expanded definition of interstate commerce on which EPA and other federal jurisdiction is based to force an end to state actions that produce disfavorable outcomes from the White House’s perspectives. If Newsom doesn’t like that, he can demand a return to a much stricter interpretation of the Commerce Clause by overturning Wickard, among other precedents.

Irony theater? Perhaps we should call it Briar Patch Theater instead.

Wheeler’s point about power goes well beyond authority, though. Wheeler points out that Newsom can’t keep the lights on reliably as it is. What happens when the state requires all its vehicles to charge off the grid?

Beyond the significant questions of legality and the fact that consumer demand for the type of vehicle you would mandate has never met the aspirations of California’s political leadership, your state is already struggling to maintain reliable electricity for today’s demands. California’s record of rolling blackouts – unprecedented in size and scope – coupled with recent requests to neighboring states for power begs the question of how you expect to run an electric car fleet that will come with significant increases in electricity demand, when you can’t even keep the lights on today.

And that has already had serious impacts on environmental health, Wheeler points out in his next paragraph:

The truth is that if the state were driving 100 percent electric vehicles today, the state would be dealing with even worse power shortages than the ones that have already caused a series of otherwise preventable environmental and public health consequences. For example, in August, after the East Bay Municipal Utility District wastewater treatment plant experienced a power outage for nearly two hours, a pump station failure caused 50,000 gallons of raw sewage to be spilled into California’s Oakland Estuary. Also, just this month, the inability to maintain a reliable energy system led the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) to seek an emergency exemption from federal air quality standards in an attempt to maintain power. This request was granted but comes at the cost of increased pollutants such as fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxide in California’s air. As noted in CAISO’s letter to the U.S. Secretary of Energy, “… in the CAISO’s judgment, the loss of power to homes and local businesses in the areas affected by curtailments present a greater risk to public health and safety than the limited departures from those permit limits the CAISO requests here.”

Ouch. CAISO has also extended the deadline for retiring fossil-fuel-based power generation after the last series of rolling blackouts made it clear that the state has no backups for it. Everyone seems to grasp California’s lack of power except Newsom.

Still, if California wants to become a third-world state, that’s really California’s business. Newsom should absolutely fight for his state’s rights to regulate itself, and for other states to do the same without interference from Washington. The only rational jurisdiction the federal government has on commercial transactions in California are those that specifically cross state lines, they can argue while demanding that courts return to the proper constitutional order.

What was that called again? Was that … federalism? Go for it, progressives!

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Jazz Shaw 5:31 PM on December 01, 2022