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Washington — The Trump administration is moving forward with a plan to revoke part of California's right to set its own gas mileage rules for cars, setting up a likely protracted legal fight that could ensnare automakers for years. 

The Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is planning to submit a proposed "One National Program" rule that prohibit states from setting their own gas mileage rules in a bid to ensure a single national level for fuel economy standards that would directed by Congress, according to a source familiar with the interagency process who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The "One National Program" rule will not be final until it is submitted to the Federal Register and approved under the federal government's traditional rulemaking process after the White House review process is complete.

At the same time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is planning to revoke aspects of a Clean Air Act waiver that has been used for years by California to set its own emission standards, according to the source that is familiar with the internal administration discussions. That would undo California's Advanced Clean Car Rule, which calls for automakers to reduce pollution from new cars from 2012 model year levels by 40% by 2025. 

The Trump administration's plan would leave in place California’s Low Emission Vehicle standards that have been in place since the 1990s. 

The Trump administration and California have been engaged in a pitched battle over gas mileage rules since the earliest days of Trump's presidency. 

The Trump administration announced last year its intention to ease stringent gas-mileage rules that would have required fleets averaging nearly 55 miles per gallon by 2025. The administration proposed a freeze in the mandate after 2020, touching off a fierce battle with California, which helped craft the Obama-era rules.

The two sides attempted to negotiate a potential agreement, but the White House announced in February it was pulling out of the talks and moving forward with its proposed freeze. 

Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., have adopted California’s mileage rules, meaning automakers could be left with one set of rules for a quarter of the country and another set for the remaining states unless the Trump administration and California can come to an agreement. Congress gave California the right to set its own standards

California has vowed to fight any attempt to revoke its right to set its own mileage rules in court. The state has reached an agreement with Ford Motor Co. and three other automakers to voluntarily increase the average fuel economy of their fleets from 2021 levels by 3.7% per year, reaching an average of nearly 50 mpg by 2026.

"California will continue its advance toward a cleaner future," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, said in a statement that was provided to The Detroit News. "We’re prepared to defend the standards that make that promise a reality." 

If the Trump administration is successful in its effort to roll back the Obama-era mpg standards, other automakers would be bound by less restrictive rules. There is nothing in the law that would stop automakers from agreeing to meet higher standards on their own. 

Carmakers have consistently pushed for one national fuel-economy standard. They have pressed the Trump administration to go back to the negotiating table with California. 

Environmentalists have decried the Trump administration's efforts to rollback the Obama-era fuel economy standards as an attack on the environment from a hositle administration. 

"The Trump administration is acting out of spite, trying to deny state leaders the ability to protect their citizens from toxic air pollution and the ravages of our climate crisis," Luke Tonachel, director of clean vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said.

"More than 100 million people in 14 states rely on these standards, which curb pollution, cut costs for drivers at the pump and boost employment," he continued. "Even automakers have called on the president to work with the states on a negotiated outcome. Only mean-spirited folks in the White House and their allies in the oil industry would think this is a good idea." 

klaing@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8735

Twitter: @Keith_Laing

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