Trump's EPA sets stage for legal fight with California on fuel emissions standards

'Federalism does not mean that one state can dictate standards for the nation'

Andrew Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, told car manufacturers on Tuesday that the administration is moving toward a single "national standard" for vehicle fuel efficiency, an apparent swipe at California’s recent landmark agreement with four major automakers to impose stricter standards.

In a speech at the National Automobile Dealers Association, Wheeler said the administration planned to "bring clarity to the proper and improper scope and use" of a waiver in the Clean Air Act, the federal law intended to curb air pollution.

“One national standard will provide much-needed regulatory certainty to auto makers, dealers and consumers,” Wheeler said.

This is an extraordinary position for a GOP administration. Republicans have traditionally sought to curb federal authority -- particularly in environmental regulation -- in favor of states’ rights. The matter escalated in recent weeks when the Justice Department launched an antitrust investigation into four automakers – Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen.

"We embrace federalism and the role of the states, but federalism does not mean that one state can dictate standards for the nation," Wheeler said.

"Let me break it down in simple terms for you...," Newsom tweeted. "Reducing emissions: -Protects our air & health -Is good for the economy -Allows families to pay less at the pump We’re here in the 21st century. Let us know when you decide to join us."

Wheeler made clear he was referring to California, joking that the fuel efficiency standards known as "CAFE" does "not stand for California Assumes Federal Empowerment."

Several news outlets reported that the plan specifically would revoke California’s ability to use the waiver to set its own emissions standards.

The EPA declined to provide specifics, although an announcement was expected as early as Wednesday.

At least one environmental group has already said it will sue.

In a statement, the Environmental Defense Fund called it "unlawful" for the government to block states from choosing higher standards.

The plan "would be a reckless and unlawful attack on a great American success story," the group stated.