States threaten showdown over White House auto emissions plan

Aug 2 (Reuters) - The Trump administration proposed weakening Obama-era federal fuel efficiency standards on Thursday and moved to revoke California's authority to set its own strict tailpipe emissions rules, setting up what will likely be a protracted legal battle between the federal government and U.S. states.

Some 19 states, including California, and Washington D.C. announced that they intend to sue the administration to halt the rollback, which the Trump administration billed as a way to lower vehicle prices for consumers, but which critics said would accelerate climate change and hike pump prices.

"We are prepared to go to court to put the brakes on this reckless and illegal plan," the coalition of states attorneys, led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, said in a news release. The states that have adopted California's emission rules together make up abone-thirdhird of the U.S. auto market.

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The proposal to roll back anti-pollution efforts is in line with President Donald Trump's decision last year to abandon the 2015 Paris Agreement, under which countries agreed to take steps to mitigate global warming.

The proposal from the U.S. Transportation Department and Environmental Protection Agency would freeze fuel efficiency standards at 2020 levels through 2026, and require dramatically fewer electric vehicles as more people continue to drive gasoline-powered vehicles.

The administration said the freeze would boost U.S. oil consumption by about 500,000 barrels of oil a day by the 2030s, and argued it would prevent up to 1,000 traffic fatalities per year by reducing the price of new vehicles and so prompting people to buy newer, safer vehicles more quickly.

Environmental groups criticized the assertion about reducing crash deaths, and said the proposal would drive up gasoline prices and reverse one of the most significant steps Washington has taken to curb climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

It would also put more lives at risk due to asthma-inducing emissions, they said.

"The clean car standards are already saving our families billions at the pump, supporting nearly 300,000 American jobs, and cleaning up dangerous tailpipe pollution," said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We need to speed up that progress, not slide backward."

(Reporting by Joe White and David Shepardson Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel Writing by Richard Valdmanis Editing by Frances Kerry)