For decades California has used its market power and its policy innovation to push America toward a cleaner energy future. But the Trump administration seems just as determined to drag America backward to more dependence on dirty fossil fuels.

While expected, the official announcement Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency is rolling back landmark fuel economy rules is still sweeping in its significance – and stunning in its stupidity.

Copying a 2002 California law, President Barack Obama in 2011 announced a deal with U.S. and foreign automakers (including some that had just received a federal bailout) to have cars and light trucks average 54.5 miles a gallon by 2025. That would save drivers money at the pump, reduce carbon emissions and push automakers to build cleaner vehicles.

The fuel standards represent the most sweeping action the federal government has taken to reduce greenhouse gases, and they are essential for California to meet its goals on reducing carbon emissions.

Now, the EPA – which under Scott Pruitt is fast becoming an oxymoron – plans to come up with lower fuel standards. As usual, President Donald Trump and his cabinet are paying far more attention to the complaints of corporate CEOs, who want to sell more profitable gas-guzzlers, than the best interests of those “forgotten” average Americans to whom they give so much lip service, who just want breathable air and commutes they can afford.

This is the administration that pulled the U.S. out of the historic Paris climate change accord, that wants to allow drilling offshore and that seeks to reopen unneeded coal mines.

Just as on so many other big issues of the day, this will end up in court – particularly if, as expected, the EPA seeks to rescind the waiver that lets California impose stricter fuel standards under the Clean Air Act. A dozen other states followed California’s lead, but automakers want only one national standard.

Gov. Jerry Brown and Mary Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, quickly made clear that the state will defend its clean vehicle standards. This is a legal battle that California must do all it can to win.

The stakes could hardly be higher, as pointed out in a joint statement from Brown, the governors of Oregon and Washington and the mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland and Seattle.

“Our job as governors and mayors is to boost our region’s economic opportunities and to make our cities and states cleaner and healthier for our residents and businesses,” they said. “This decision does the exact opposite, making America more dependent on oil while putting more lives at risk from pollution and shortchanging consumers at the pump.”

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©2018 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

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