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EDITORIAL: Illinois can charge ahead on limiting auto emissions, even as Trump sells out

By joining California and other states, Illinois can help tilt any final federal agreement on auto emissions toward one that does the most to limit climate change.

Supporters attend a rally for a group of young people who filed a lawsuit saying U.S. energy policies are causing climate change and hurting their future. The group faced a major hurdle Tuesday as lawyers for the Trump administration argued to stop the ca
Supporters attend a rally for a group of young people who filed a lawsuit saying U.S. energy policies are causing climate change and hurting their future. The group faced a major hurdle Tuesday as lawyers for the Trump administration argued to stop the case from moving forward, in Portland, Oregon.
(AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)

Illinois took a major step last week toward becoming the first Midwestern state to establish vehicle emissions standards that are tougher than those proposed by the Trump administration.

On behalf of our planet, we should follow through.

EDITORIAL

The Trump administration is seeking to weaken tailpipe emissions standards, much to the dismay of environmentalists and even the world’s largest automakers. But Illinois is in a position now to join 14 other states and the District of Columbia in fighting any watering down of standards by the federal government. Illinois, by joining the resistance, can help draw a line against allowing increased auto emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, that warm the Earth.

Efforts to place Illinois in the vanguard of environment-minded states on this issue fizzled in 2007 and 2009, when proposed legislation to toughen auto emission standards died in committee in the state Legislature. But on May 22, the Legislature finally voted to repeal the state’s 1998 “anti-Kyoto Act” law, which prevents Illinois from imposing limits on greenhouse gas emissions that are more strict than the federal government’s.

We hope Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs the repeal quickly.

The Kyoto Protocol, passed in 1997, committed the nations that signed it to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but the agreement was never ratified by the United States. In 2002, California set its own auto emissions standards, which are more stringent than the federal government’s, and other states later adopted California’s standards. In 2010, the Obama administration agreed to bring the entire nation up to California’s standards through 2025, but the Trump administration now wants to walk that back.

That would be irresponsible.

As former New York Gov. Michael Bloomberg said just this week in announcing a $500 million effort to close all coal-fired power plants in the nation by 2030, ”We’re in a race against time with climate change . . . Mother Nature is not waiting on our political calendar, and neither can we.”

All around us, climate change is playing havoc with the environment. The Midwest is soaked by deluges that are flooding cities and imperiling crops. California is beset by repeated wildfires. Rising sea levels threaten coastal cities.

Many of the world’s biggest companies warn that climate change could significantly hurt their bottom lines within five years. And an Australian think tank warned in May of doomsday for humans if we don’t act in time to prevent irreversible changes in the global climate.

But all of that seems to be lost on Trump and his aides, who don’t accept the reality of climate change, thinking they know more than the world’s best scientists. The U.S. EPA has suppressed mention of climate change on its website, and the EPA’s administrator, Andrew R. Wheeler, is a former fossil-fuel energy industry lobbyist.

Under both California and current federal rules, as set by the Obama administration, limits on the emissions of greenhouse gases emission are scheduled to be tightened steadily through the 2025 model year. But the Trump administration is proposing to freeze the standards with the 2020 model year and strip California of its power to set its own clean-car rules.

Illinois is among 17 states that filed suit against the Trump administration this spring to keep it from torpedoing standards for how much greenhouse gases vehicles can emit.

Other states have the option of adopting California’s limits, as allowed for under the current federal rules, but cannot set their own. Illinois should waste no time in signing on to California’s rules — while that is still possible — either through legislation or through rulemaking by the Illinois Pollution Control Board.

The U.S. EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are expected to publish a final rule next year. On Thursday, 17 of the world’s largest carmakers sent Trump a letter reportedly saying that lowering the federal emissions requirements — even as California and other states refuse to follow suit — would create a confusing and “untenable” situation. The companies would prefer a single set of emissions standards.

By joining California and the other states that refuse to backslide on emissions standards, Illinois can help tilt any final federal agreement toward one that does the most to limit climate change. Action in Springfield might also encourage other Midwestern states to do the same.

The more other states follow California’s lead, the better the chance that California’s standards will remain in place after 2025, which is when some legal experts say the state’s ability to chart its own path will end.

“We need to be as aggressive on the environment as we can, especially dealing with greenhouse gas emissions,” state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said on Friday.

In Illinois, transportation emits more carbon than any other sector. We should join other states in working to lower those emissions as much as possible, regardless of what the Trump administration tries to do.

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SOURCES: Maryland.gov, Environmental Defense Fund

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