Trump sues to undo California’s climate change pact with Canada, calls it rogue foreign policy

President Donald Trump’s administration ramped up its fight with California over climate change and greenhouse gases Wednesday, launching a lawsuit that challenges a deal the state made with the Canadian province of Quebec to reduce carbon emissions.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, goes after California’s “cap-and-trade” program, a market-based system created when Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor in 2006. It requires businesses to buy carbon credits or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

In an effort to expand the reach and effectiveness of the program, California brought Quebec into the fold in 2014. Ontario had planned on joining but changed its mind.

The Trump administration says Quebec’s participation is unconstitutional because it represents a treaty between a state and a foreign government.

“The Constitution gives the federal government full and exclusive responsibility to conduct this nation’s foreign affairs,” the lawsuit says. “Allowing individual states in the Union to conduct their own foreign policy to advance their own narrow interests is thus anathema to our system of government.”

The lawsuit follows months of bickering between the Trump administration and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration over greenhouse gas pollution from cars.

California made a nationwide deal a decade ago with the Obama administration to curtail carbon emissions from motor vehicles. Trump announced plans to weaken those standards. Then Newsom and the California Air Resources Board in July cut a deal with four major automakers — BMW, Volkswagen, Ford and Honda — to stick with a slightly weakened version of the rules set by Obama.

The move reportedly infuriated Trump. Last month his administration said it would revoke California’s authority, enshrined in federal law for nearly a half century, to set air pollution standards that are stricter than the nation’s. Soon after, the administration launched an antitrust investigation of the four carmakers and then threatened to pull billions of dollars in federal highway funding from California because of the state’s chronic air pollution problems.

Newsom blasted the Trump administration over the cap-and-trade lawsuit.

“The White House is yet again continuing its political vendetta against California, our climate policies and the health of our communities,” he said in a prepared statement.

“For years our state has proudly participated in a number of environmental partnerships that tackle the devastating effects of climate change to our health and economy,” he added. “This latest attack shows that the White House has its head in the sand when it comes to climate change and serves no purpose other than continued political retribution.”

The cap-and-trade system is one of the centerpieces of California’s effort to battle climate change. Businesses have had to spend billions of dollars buying emissions credits, either from each other or at a state-run auction every three months. Motorists pay an estimated 11 cents a gallon more for gasoline in California because of the program.

The amount of available credits declines slightly each year, reducing the total amount of carbon emissions.

Newsom was present as the mayor of San Francisco when Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law. A ballot proposition to suspend the greenhouse gas emission requirements was defeated by California voters in 2010. Business groups tried to halt the program in court, saying it constituted an illegal tax. But the California Supreme Court declined to review a lower court decision upholding the program’s design.

In announcing the lawsuit, Trump’s Justice Department said California has no right to “pursue an independent foreign policy in the area of greenhouse gas regulation.”

“The state of California has veered outside of its proper constitutional lane to enter into an international emissions 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,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“California’s unlawful cap-and-trade agreement with Quebec undermines the president’s ability to negotiate competitive agreements with other nations, as the president sees fit,” he added.

California has filed more than 60 lawsuits against Trump’s Justice Department, including over auto emissions standards, but the U.S. suing California is not as common. The Justice Department sued California in March 2018 over their so-called sanctuary city laws — laws that prevent local law enforcement from communicating with immigration enforcement when they encounter people who are in the country illegally.

Trump's Cap and Trade Lawsuit Against California

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Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.