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Tesla, Electric Car Backers Join California Auto Emissions Case

Nov. 18, 2019, 4:16 PM

Electric carmakers and related companies are lining up behind environmental groups and states in the ballooning legal fight over the Trump administration’s decision to block California from setting its own auto emissions standards.

The National Coalition for Advanced Transportation on Nov. 15 moved to intervene in a pair of lawsuits against the Transportation Department at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The coalition’s members include Tesla Inc., Rivian Automotive Inc., Exelon Corp., Pacific Gas and Electric Co., ChargePoint Inc., Plug In America, and other utilities and electric vehicle infrastructure companies. They’re challenging a preemption rule the Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration unveiled in September that says federal law preempts California’s tailpipe emissions standards.

The agency released the rule in tandem with an Environmental Protection Agency announcement that the Trump administration was revoking the Clean Air Act waiver that allows the Golden State to set its own emissions standards.

“NHTSA’s purported elimination of state authority through the Preemption Regulation adversely affects the marketplace for transportation electrification and deployment of advanced vehicle technologies across the country—undermining business opportunities for utilities, manufacturers, and infrastructure companies,” NCAT told the district court.

NCAT, represented by Latham & Watkins LLP, is aligning itself with California, 22 other states, New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and a coalition of environmental groups.

The organization’s involvement comes after General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp., and some other automakers joined the litigation on the side of the Trump administration.

Air regulators sue

Local air officials in California, meanwhile, have launched their own lawsuit against NHTSA.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District filed suit Nov. 14, alleging the transportation agency adopted the preemption rule in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

“The challenged Rule injures Plaintiffs’ informational and procedural interests by depriving them of a NEPA-required analysis of the impact of preempting state and local air pollution laws and the ability to comment on such an analysis,” the districts told the court.

The Trump administration has argued that legal challenges to NHTSA’s rule should be moved to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where separate litigation challenging the EPA’s revocation of California’s waiver has begun.

The California case is California v. Chao, D.D.C., No. 1:19-cv-02826, motion filed 11/15/19. The air regulators’ case is S. Coast Air Quality Mgmt. Dist. v. Chao, D.D.C., No. 1:19-cv-03436, 11/14/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Chuck McCutcheon at; Anna Yukhananov at