California's Top Air Regulator Is Scathing in Response to DOJ Climate Suit

A truck travels the 210 freeway between Los Angeles and cities to the east on December 1, 2009 near Pasadena, California.  (David McNew/Getty Images)

Once again, the federal government is challenging California over policies related to climate change.

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit today in the Eastern District of California arguing that the state’s 2013 cap-and-trade agreement with the Canadian Province of Quebec violates the law.

The feds say in a release that California is interfering with U.S. international relations by “attempting to pursue an independent foreign policy in the area of greenhouse gas regulation.”

In a statement, Jeffrey Bossert Clark, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said that California “veered outside of its proper constitutional lane” with the agreement.

“The power to enter into such agreements is reserved to the federal government, which must be able to speak with one voice in the area of U.S. foreign policy,” he said. 

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The civil complaint named the state, key officials, the California Air Resources Board and the Western Climate Initiative Inc.

Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, was scathing in her criticism of the suit.

Speaking after her keynote address at a climate policy forum hosted by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution and Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, she said her "first thought was that it was a joke." She continued ...

The linkage with Canada has been in effect for a number of years. And our State Department and other elements of the U.S. government are well aware of it. They were following its development from the very beginning. We've also had legal opinions at all levels that what we're doing doesn't interfere with the federal prerogative on treaties. We don't have a treaty. We're not entering into treaties. But we do have many different memorandums of understanding that allow us to work on cross boundary problems with other states in other countries. And this is one of those programs. We'll fight it out in the court, of course. But it just seems odd. The timing seems odd, and particularly odd at a time when the U.S. government is being investigated for conducting illegal foreign policy. It's almost as though they are searching for a distraction.

Gov. Gavin Newsom pushed back even before the workday in California had begun.

In a press release, Newsom said on the issue of climate change that the White House has its “head in the sand,” and the Trump administration is pursuing “political retribution against California, our climate policies and the health of our communities.”

“Carbon pollution knows no borders, and the Trump administration’s abysmal record of denying climate change and propping up big polluters makes cross-border collaboration all the more necessary,” Newsom said in his statement. “California’s landmark cap-and-trade program has inspired the creation of dozens of businesses, is a model for similar policies around the world, and puts California well ahead of the pack as we prepare for a low-carbon future.”

In July, Newsom and Nichols reached a tailpipe emissions agreement with four major automakers. Ford, Honda, BMW, and Volkswagen voluntarily agreed to produce cleaner cars over time and invest in electric vehicles.

That agreement was a rebuke of the Trump administration, which wanted to loosen emission standards.

California's attorney general has sued the federal government more two dozen times over the Trump administration's environmental policies.

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