BOSTON — The Trump administration has picked a fight with California over the state's tough emissions standards, and the simmering feud has implications for other states, including Massachusetts.
President Donald Trump has pledged to revoke California's authority to set standards for greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy for cars and trucks, which have been adopted by a dozen other states, including Massachusetts, as well as the District of Columbia.
Trump has said the move will allow automakers to produce more affordable vehicles.
But states that follow California’s lead on pollution controls are resisting, saying a rollback will mean poor air quality and an increase in carbon emissions.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has joined a multi-state lawsuit challenging the move as "illegal and environmentally destructive." The lawsuit says the Trump administration unlawfully removed a waiver granted to California under the Clean Air Act and asks a judge to void the directive.
"After three years of shredding federal environmental rules, the Trump administration is now attacking state policies that protect public health and address the climate crisis," Healey said in a statement. "This is an illegal assault on states’ rights and clean air that will damage the environment and put the health of our children, seniors and all communities at risk."
Healey said the rollback will hamper efforts to comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act, a federal law the state adopted several years ago. Under the law Massachusetts is required to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
Twenty-four states including Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont and Connecticut are part of California's legal challenge. New Hampshire is the only New England state not to join the suit.
Environmentalists are calling the Trump administration’s decision an attack on environmental protections.
"This move is nothing more than pure vindictiveness from an administration set on giving Big Oil a polluting pass at the expense of our climate and the well-being of American families," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, in a statement. "Trump’s actions will not go unchecked."
Federal law sets limits on pollution from cars and trucks. California has been allowed since the 1970s to set tougher rules because it has the most cars and struggles to meet air quality standards.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which sets the standards, said its authority pre-empts state and local programs. Last week, it and the Environmental Protection Agency jointly revoked California's waiver, a move that goes into effect in 60 days.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department is conducting an antitrust investigation of four automakers that have independently agreed to follow tougher tailpipe emissions standards. The comapnies -- Ford, BMW, Honda and Volkswagen -- had previously announced they would voluntarily follow California's rules.
The Trump administration’s position is backed by conservative groups including the American Energy Alliance, a Washington D.C. trade group backed mostly by fossil fuel companies. In a statement the group said the change will "save consumers money, preserve their choices, and ensure that the federal government, and not California, sets national fuel efficiency policy."
Eric Wilkinson, general counsel and director of energy policy at the Environmental League of Massachusetts, said lowering emission standards will put the state and country further from their goal of reducing the greenhouse gases that scientists say contribute to a warming planet.
"Transportation accounts for about 40 percent of the state's greenhouse emissions," he said. "So we really need to tackle that in an aggressive way."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.