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Feds Threaten to Withhold California Infrastructure Funds

Trump administration officials threatened to withhold billions of dollars in federal highway funding from California, arguing that the state has not shown what steps it is taking to improve its air quality. 

Under the EPA’s rules, the state has 18 months to comply with the agency’s regulations. If the state’s plans are still deemed inadequate, the EPA can then impose so-called “offset” sanctions, which require immediate reductions in pollution. Six months later, if the EPA isn’t satisfied, it can then move to block federal highway funding in the affected area of the state.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler suggested that the state “has failed to carry out its most basic tasks under the Clean Air Act” and needs to either update its plans to tackle air pollution or risk losing federal money.

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) addressed the simmering dispute in a Sept. 24th letter sent to Wheeler.

"AGC supports the agency’s stated commitments to improve air quality and to reduce the backlog in state implementation plans," wrote Jimmy Christianson, AGC's vice president, government relations. "AGC urges the agency to work with California on air quality and to provide a grace period sufficient to allow California to update and finalize its state plans. Using federal highway funding as a cudgel is counterproductive to the administration’s promise to deliver on infrastructure and the environment."

California Gov. Gavin Newsom called the threat a "brazen political stunt.”

“The White House has no interest in helping California comply with the Clean Air Act to improve the health and well-being of Californians,” Gov. Newsom said in a statement. “This letter is a threat of pure retaliation."

Gov. Newsom was referring to the fact that California has imposed strict state limits on vehicle emissions, a move the Trump administration opposes.

The state of California also recently filed its 29th environmental lawsuit against the Trump administration, challenging the EPA's determination that 1,365 acres of salt ponds in Redwood City, Calif., are not "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act.

“The Trump administration’s threat to withhold California’s highway funding over clean air quality reports is the height of hypocrisy. California doesn’t need to be lectured by an administration beholden to polluters," said Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.)