Monday, March 27, 2023






        Immediately after state legislators passed the landmark SB 9 and 10 in 2021, taking most local land-use decisions away from city councils and county supervisors, resentful local officials vowed to run a referendum campaign and kill those new laws.


        The two measures essentially eliminated R-1 single family zoning everywhere in California, allowing up to six housing units on lots formerly limited to one and making approval automatic for high rise residential buildings on all streets reasonably close to mass transit.


        That meant easy permitting, for example, for buildings up to five stories on any street where officials suddenly open a new bus line. It was not limited to areas in walking distance of rail or subway stops.


         But the referendum mounted by dozens of local officials never got off the ground that year, partly because the coronavirus pandemic drove the cost of gathering initiative petition signatures to unprecedented heights – as much as $16 per signature in some parts of the San Francisco Bay area.


        So the promised anti-density referendum never made the 2022 state ballot and the landmark laws remain on the books. Neither has produced much action as yet, in large part because no one has demonstrated that the authorized new housing would be profitable. There’s also a shortage of construction workers.


        By contrast, a previous law allowing “ADUs” – additional dwelling units often called “granny flats” – on virtually all onetime R-1 properties has produced major results. It is hard to find a significant home remodel or rebuild in this state that does not include one. Some cities are making ADUs major policy instruments in efforts to satisfy state housing density requirements.


        No one knows whether most of these are occupied by renters or family members of the property owners. But some longtime property owners are downsizing into new ADUs, allowing their adult children and families to move into their properties’ main houses.


        Into this picture now step some of the same folks who vowed in 2021 that they’d repeal SB 9 and 10.


        They hope to circulate petitions for a new initiative aimed not only at those two laws, but the other housing density requirements now being imposed around California via a spate of new laws passed by pro-density legislators led by Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, who has spearheaded this movement for most of the last decade. Wiener claims only massive new construction can solve the state’s housing shortage, variously estimated at anywhere from 1 million to 3.5 million dwelling units by state authorities over the last five years.


        That, of course, ignored the vast store of vacated office buildings, mini-malls and big box stores created by the pandemic. It’s much cheaper and faster to convert them to housing than building new units while fighting off lawsuits and ever-inflating costs for materials, land and labor. Held up by labor unions and legislators until recently, conversions are now taking off.


        The putative new initiative would likely not interfere with those changes, because they cause little variation in building footprints and won’t alter neighborhoods.


        But it could stymie more attempts by the state to take over land use decisions long the purview of local governments and local ballot measures.


        “We’d like to fix the ambiguities some people saw in our previous proposed initiative” said Anita Enander, a city councilwoman and former mayor of Los Altos Hills, near San Jose. “Our new effort should be more generally supportable. It would simply say that when state law and local land use laws conflict, the local ones will prevail. A lot of people don’t want extreme dense housing. They just want to live in their own homes.”


        Added Dennis Richards, a former longtime member of the San Francisco planning commission, “Taking this field away from local government is a way of wiping out democracy. People like Wiener are saying it does not matter what local residents think about their own cities, or how they’ve voted.”


        Historically, local control has usually won out over centralized planning when Californians have voted on it.  Sponsors of the hoped-for measure say polling indicates 60 percent to 65 percent approval.


        Even if it’s not actually that high, don’t bet against this effort once it gets going.




    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit 








        California’s wealthy cadre of gasoline gougers were on a major, lucrative roll. Every few months, they added another big victory over consumerist forces seeking to limit or somehow claw back their gains of the last 14 months.


        That will probably now end.


        The win streak for the state’s five big refiners – who make 97 percent of all gasoline in California – began in February 2022, when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Ukraine for what he expected would be a quick conquest of territory once held by the Soviet Union.


        Things have not gone quickly or easily for Putin, now wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court, based in the Netherlands.


        Immediately on news of the invasion and President Biden’s cutoff of Russian oil imports, gasoline prices shot up more than $2.50 per gallon in California, even though Russian oil accounted for under 3 percent of crude oil refined here.


        This was pure price gouging, defined as using events for a pretext to raise prices when those events have little or nothing to do with supplies on hand or expected. Nor was there any perceptible increase in demand for gasoline.


        So the first win for California refiners came when no one rolled back their price increases. The scope of this victory for the refiners became known when they filed quarterly and annual profit statements. All five big California refiners (Marathon, Valero, Phillips 66, Chevron and PBF) reported record returns both for the first two quarters of last year, and also for the entire year. Several more than tripled their best previous returns.


        That sent their stock prices soaring, which led to the gougers’ next big win. That came when executives and other oil company insiders sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stock at big profits.


        Just 60 executives and directors at the five main refiners took out more than $240 million. The Slim family of Mexico, owners of more than 10 percent of PBF stock, sold off $350 million of their holdings. At Chevron, executives and directors cashed out $150 million. PBF executives sold off $12 million in securities, Marathon executives and directors took home $48 million and Valero officials $24 million, while the CEO of Phillips 66 cashed out a “measly” $3 million, according to the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group.


        It was the biggest insider selloff of oil company stock in more than a decade, opportunistically aiming to milk the gas price situation.


        In response to these actions, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a special session of the Legislature to consider a windfall profits tax or other limits on the oil companies’ ability to raise prices suddenly and with little or no justification.


        That set up the refiners’ third victory of the last 14 months, as the special session appeared to fizzle out in mid-March.


        It was clear from the first moment of Newsom’s special session that no Republican lawmaker would vote to OK any kind of price limit on gasoline. Democrats then began to defect, under pressure from oil industry lobbyists and oil company campaign donors, who claimed any profit limit at all would interfere with their efforts to develop new energy sources. The industry win came when Newsom gave up on assessing any windfall profit tax or fee.


        But Newsom then changed tacks, and now the refiners’ win streak appears almost over. He worked a deal with legislative leaders to create a new office within the Energy Commission, whose sole task would be holding refining companies accountable when they price gouge. The new office quickly passed muster in the state Senate and likely will soon be authorized to levy penalties on refiners when their profits become excessive by historical industry standards.


It's what Newsom originally wanted, but with a different structure. Only time will tell if it helps consumers while leaving enough incentive in place to assure adequate supplies.


        Of course, oil company lobbyists immediately went to work against this plan, claiming it would create “a new, unaccountable bureaucracy (imposing) hidden taxes on oil.”


        This time they appear to be failing, so the likelihood is great that the refiners’ win streak will end soon.



    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Monday, March 20, 2023









        Some have called the California Public Utilities Commission’s highly predictable rate increase procedures a “kabuki dance,” naming it for a Japanese form of theater involving high drama, but with the audience always knowing how things will turn out.



        Others merely call it a charade.



        Here’s how it works: Utility companies like Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison apply every few years for rate hikes. They invariably request far more than they know they can get, and then settle for much less than they requested.



        Management then boasts to stockholders about new revenues, while the PUC brags to the public about cutting down the absurd amounts asked by the utilities. Everyone goes home happy except gas and electric customers, who end up with significantly higher monthly bills.



        Now it’s the turn of the Southern California Gas Co. and its sister utility, San Diego Gas & Electric (both owned by San Diego-based Sempra Energy) to ask for higher rates, and the oft-repeated kabuki dance is on again.



        The two companies are asking about $5 billion in new revenues from their more than 21 million customers over the next four years, an average of about $8 per month per customer.



        Eight bucks a month may sound puny these days, after gas customers in areas south of San Luis Obispo saw their monthly bills triple – sometimes quintuple – during the unusual cold and rain of the winter. But that $5 billion figure (sure to be reduced by the PUC) shows how small amounts add up when you’re America’s biggest gas distributor, as So Cal Gas has become.



        For sure, there’s been plenty of outrage expressed during the PUC’s public hearings on the Sempra companies’ proposal. Consumer advocates and angry customers submitted more than 500 protestations against any rate increase at this time.



        Some complained that the two gas giants failed to hedge their wholesale prices via long-term, price stabilizing contracts, instead leaving themselves open to price manipulation by wholesalers in gas producing areas from Wyoming to Texas. Consumers also claimed the gas companies kept stored supplies at lower than usual levels so they were forced onto the spot market just so Californians could keep warm.



        Prices, consumer advocates noted, did not rise nearly as much in Northern California over the winter, even though many gas bills there doubled. Most strikingly, some pointed out that prices in the few California areas served by Las Vegas-based Southwest Gas (around Lake Tahoe and in High Desert areas including Victorville and Barstow) stayed near prior levels.



        Sempra executives conceded the timing of their rate increase request was “difficult,” but nonetheless insisted they need the extra money for infrastructure improvements.



        Here’s a question: Since Sempra profited by more than $2 billion last year, mostly from its two utility companies, why shouldn’t it invest its own money in those same improvements?



        Like almost all utilities, the Sempra subsidiaries want customers to pay for their investments in things like storage facilities and pipelines. But they don’t share with those same consumers the approximately 12 percent profit they are guaranteed for 20 years on each penny they invest in infrastructure, whatever the source of the initial cash.



        So here’s a revolutionary idea for the PUC, which generally kowtows to the companies it regulates: Change your habits. Alter the course of the new Kabuki dance. Here’s how:



        Tell Sempra to use profits drawn from its existing rates to make whatever investments it wishes in safe storage, new contracts and pipeline maintenance.



        Then return and apply for new and higher rates after demonstrating it knows how to build that infrastructure and operate it safely (as compared with the 2015-16 leak from its Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, which sickened thousands in the nearby Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles).



        Only then should the PUC consider giving Sempra any kind of rate increase, let alone $5 billion over four years, or more than $1.25 billion in extra revenue each year.



        Do that and the PUC would be fulfilling its original purpose of preventing utility companies from running roughshod over their customers, rather than merely bowing to utility desires as usual.





    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit






        The myriad activists for a putative State of Jefferson in the mostly rural counties of Northern California don’t need much prodding to spring into action.


        But they may soon be getting a push anyway, this time from similar-minded eastern Oregonians eager to split off from their current state and join up with neighboring Idaho.


        That movement, called “Greater Idaho” because it would shift 15 rural eastern Oregon counties into Idaho, has so far won voter approval in 11 of those counties and will get a vote in May in northeast Oregon’s Wallowa County (population 7,391). The Idaho Legislature’s lower house has already approved the concept.


        While the Greater Idaho movement is far younger than the notion of a State of Jefferson, which originated in the 1940s, it has moved much farther toward its goal.  It is even due for some discussion in the Oregon Legislature this year, with at least one state senator and one member of the lower house as sponsors.


        The State of Jefferson, by contrast, has never gotten formal consideration in Sacramento. Its aim is not to join another state, but to rip away from Oregon some of the same counties now amenable to joining Idaho and link them to Northern California in a new 51st state, its putative capital Redding, in California’s Shasta County.


        Meanwhile, a nascent separatist movement in San Bernardino County won narrow approval from local voters last fall for a study of independent statehood. There’s been no action yet on that.


        The State of Jefferson gets some support not only in Northern California, but also in southern Oregon, where roadside signs in cities like Grants (cq) Pass, Reedsport and Medford are readily visible.


        It would be no surprise if California counties sympathetic to Jefferson joined Oregon areas pushing to join Idaho. Their complaints are the same: Most are politically more conservative than the dominant coastal, urban areas of their states. Many counties are wrapped into each legislative district in those regions, while some urban counties get dozens.


        That last has been true since California in the 1960s bent to the U.S. Supreme Court’s One Person, One Vote decision. Before then, state Senate seats were allocated by geography, so the northern counties often wielded significant power.


        Now their mostly Republican representatives are part of small GOP minorities in both houses of the California Legislature.


        It’s little different in Oregon, where tiny Wallowa’s populace would fit into a few Portland or Eugene city blocks.


        The rural counties feel they suffer the same kind of taxation without representation that helped fuel the American Revolution and many folks there want out. They also despise gun control laws passed over the last few years in both Oregon and California.


        In Oregon, they get some statewide sympathy. One poll often cited by Greater Idaho organizers found 68 percent of Portland area voters favor their Legislature at least discussing the idea of separation. They note that losing many eastern areas would let that Oregon become even more solidly Democratic than now.


        But Greater Idaho and the State of Jefferson both face major roadblocks: Each would require a statewide vote okaying both letting significant areas pull out, along with congressional support and statewide voter support for whatever property split was worked out between existing state governments and new or revised ones. Not to mention similar votes in Idaho, where voters would have to approve adding the rural Oregon counties which now get far more financial support from their state than they contribute via taxes.


        All of which means none of the current state splitting or state altering ideas has yet become serious business, just like all the other 42 ideas for new state lines proposed formally and informally since California entered the Union in 1850.

Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is



Monday, March 13, 2023







        There were loud complaints about ballot measure dishonesty the other  day, just after the fast food industry qualified a referendum for a statewide vote next year aiming to do away with a new law giving workers in those restaurants higher pay and more say-so over workplace rules and disputes.



        Without doubt, there was dishonesty in the process of gathering the almost 550,000 valid voter signatures needed to get this measure onto the ballot. Referenda are different from normal ballot initiatives: they don’t create new law, but try to nix recently-passed laws before they can take effect.



        Its dishonesty helped gain the fast food industry at least a temporary reprieve: The new law passed last summer and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom will be in abeyance until results of next year’s popular vote on it are known.



        Neither referenda nor dishonesty in getting them to the ballot is new. Deception is easy to pull off. That’s especially true with little or no regulation on petition carriers and valid signatures bringing up to $15 apiece, depending on the wealth of the referendum backers. The companies behind this one were willing to spend whatever it took to bring their proposition to the ballot, as were the oil companies who soon after qualified another referendum to undo a law banning new oil wells and fracking within 3,200 feet of homes and schools.



        With up to $15 per name at stake, it’s no wonder when some petition carriers resort to dishonesty. Those $15 chunks can add up very quickly.



        In canvassing for the fast food measure, petition carriers outside big box stores around the state told many voters the proposal would help raise wages for fast food workers. Uh-uh.



        Others told their pigeons the measure would fight inflation. Nope. Still others refused to show voters the actual text of the referendum.



        No wonder many voters reported feeling bilked when they learned what they had signed. Fortunately for them, they will get another crack at this measure when it hits the ballot in November 2024.



        The good news here is that dishonesty in proposition politics, old as it is, has not usually paid off.



        One of the oldest dishonest tactics of proposition sponsors is use of misleading names for their campaign committees. One example: In the early 2000s, the tobacco industry qualified an initiative to cancel all local restrictions on smoking.



        The companies called their committee Californians for Statewide Smoking Restrictions. But there was no push for state laws on the subject; the industry merely wanted to quash what several cities had done on their own to reduce smoking.



        Similarly, in 2016, the plastic bag industry qualified a referendum which appeared on the ballot as Proposition 67, aiming to throw out a new law banning single-use carry-out store bags. The trade group called itself the American Progressive Bag Alliance. What’s a progressive bag?



        Prop. 67 lost on a 53-47 percent vote, and groceries and other stores still sell plastic bags for 10 cents apiece, but they are thicker and can be used more than once.



        There was similar dishonesty in the sports gambling industry’s 2022 attempt to legalize almost unfettered online sports betting in California. On the ballot as Prop. 27 last fall, and sponsored by the FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM wagering services, this effort began dishonestly by calling its measure the “California Solutions to Homelessness and Mental Health Support Act.” In fact, only a tiny percentage of revenues would have gone to those causes, and the measure lost by more than 2-1.



        The tobacco industry also lost in its dishonest campaign.



        These are just three out of many egregious examples of misleading industry campaigns to pass initiatives or referenda in California.



So it would be na├»ve to be shocked that the fast food industry’s petition carriers engaged in several forms of dishonesty.



        And it would not be the least bit surprising if the latest dishonest campaign ends up losing, too, just like almost all previous propositions whose campaigns were deliberately misleading.




    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit









        Almost everyone who lived through California’s 2000-2001 energy crisis remembers rolling brownouts and blackouts, plus thefts in the billions of dollars from California consumers by Texas companies like Enron and Reliant Energy, which purposely shut down power plants to create an electricity shortage and raise prices and profits.



        This was classic market manipulation, enabled by California’s 1998 electricity deregulation law, which encouraged regional movements of electricity across state lines.



        Now a new report commissioned by California’s Legislature – ever a sucker for multi-state regional schemes – amazingly claims a return to something similar would actually prevent blackouts in California as this state transitions to more and more use of renewable energy drawn from wind, solar and hydroelectric sources.



        As with almost every electricity plan pushed since the Enron scandal, this one uses the “blackout blackmail” tactic, promising “regional cooperation, lower prices and more efficient use of transmission lines.”



        The big problem is that all this can only work if there's no market manipulation. But the energy crunch early in this century demonstrated that where manipulation is possible, profit-driven companies will manipulate.



        That’s why Oklahoma’s Williams Companies got involved 23 years ago. It’s why Enron saw multiple executives convicted in Houston and jailed after major trials. It’s why executives of those firms openly laughed about “robbing grandmas in California.”



        “What the Legislature is discussing today is pretty identical to a plan that was rejected in 2018, when (then-Gov.) Jerry Brown pushed it,” recalled Jamie Court, head of the state’s premiere consumer advocacy group, Consumer Watchdog.



        These schemes, which seem to arise every few years, are partly driven by utility companies’ longtime desire to build more multi-billion-dollar long distance transmission lines, which produce guaranteed profits of about 14 percent for 20 years on every cent spent to erect them.



        Ideas bearing the word “regional” are often popular because of the notion that bigger is better. But regional electricity transmission organizations (RTOs) manage multi-state movements of power mostly to benefit the companies that own the power lines.



        Even though the new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) says the opposite, joining a Western RTO could thwart California’s goal of becoming 100 percent reliant on renewables by 2045. For states like Arizona, Utah and Nevada are replete with coal- and oil-fired power plants that no longer exist in California, but whose output could be mixed with renewable energy from in-state sources.



Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under ex-President Donald Trump adopted a requirement for RTOs to counteract state-level renewable energy policies. How does that square with California’s longtime aims?


Of course, this state officially recognizes the transition to all-renewables may create problems for awhile. That’s why it is letting PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant operate at least five years beyond its previously scheduled closing and keeping open outdated natural gas-fired generating stations for “peaker” use when power consumption is highest.


 No one knows exactly how today’s power companies around the Southwest would manipulate the very different situation a Western regional grid would create, but the motive would be exactly the same as during the energy crunch – big profits.



Plus, states involved include the same ones currently trying to create a new system for maintaining their own use of Colorado River water while forcing California to make cuts. One big problem they have with this is that it runs afoul of current law and contracts.



So the possibility is strong that companies based in those states would act against California much as they did during the energy crunch and just as the states themselves are trying to do now.



What’s more, if California joins a regional grid, it will cede much of its energy planning authority to a board of directors where this state would be a minority, despite having far more population and power users than the other states combined.



This makes no sense, but the Legislature got exactly the report it asked for, when it plainly assigned the NREL to help it justify joining a regional grid.



        So far, California has avoided adopting such a self-destructive plan. But with current lawmakers plainly inclined in that direction, this state is in danger of being manipulated into another serious energy crunch.





  Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

Monday, March 6, 2023







        For much of the last few years, Ro Khanna was considered a lock to run for the U.S. Senate when Democrat Dianne Feinstein eventually succumbed to old age and opted to retire.


        But now that Feinstein, the 30-year incumbent and former mayor of San Francisco, officially says she’ll leave the Seante after next year at age 90, Khanna says uh-uh.


        The four-term incumbent and former presidential campaign co-chair for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders cited a private poll the other day when indicating he’ll stay out of next year’s Senate primary, now shaping up as an all-Democrat dogfight among Burbank Congressman Adam Schiff, Orange County Congresswoman Katie Porter and Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee.


        The poll, he said, showed Schiff with a solid early lead among likely Democratic voters – the vast majority of those participating in this state’s elections. Schiff tallied 40 percent in that survey to 20 percent for both Porter and Lee, while Khanna trailed considerably behind. A subsequent poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Government Studies found a tighter race between Schiff and Porter, but some questioned that survey’s methodology.


        Right now, it appears that unless Republicans find an Arnold Schwarzenegger-like non-politician to bear their standard, California can figure the GOP will have no hope of picking up this longtime Democratic seat.


        But which Democrat, and why?


        First, there’s the question of why each of the three Democrats is running. Then it’s logical to wonder what happens when this field is winnowed down to two for the November 2024 runoff, where voter turnout should be high because the Senate race will share the ballot with the next presidential contest.


        All three declared candidates have national bases. Schiff is probably the best known, having led two impeachment efforts against former President Donald Trump. That made him popular among Democrats nationwide.


        Schiff, 62, with his longtime involvement in major issues, is a natural as a Senate candidate. But he’s a white male in a state that has exclusively elected women to the Senate for the last 31 years.


        Meanwhile, Porter was a lock to run this year both because, with fellow Democrat Alex Padilla embedded solidly in the state’s other Senate seat, it may be a long time before there’s another opening and because after the 2021 redistricting, her congressional district became more difficult for a Democrat to win. She won it last year by only a hair.


        The 49-year-old Porter, who wields a whiteboard and biting questions during congressional hearings, has her own national following.


        Then there’s Lee, 76, best known for her almost solitary votes against going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, wars that cost thousands of American lives. Lee also symbolizes the belief that at least one of California’s Senate seats should go to a Black woman, both because there are not now any female Black senators, and because some believe that because California elected Vice President Kamala Harris to the Senate in 2016, Black women are entitled to the seat despite making up less than 4 percent of the state’s populace.


        A traditional way to handicap Senate candidates is by their capacity to raise money. Both Schiff and Porter do well in that department, Schiff having started this year with $20.8 million in his war chest and Porter with $7.4 million on hand after raising more than $25 million last year.


        Those figures place Schiff and Porter among the top 10 congressional fund raisers, while Lee trails far behind with barely $50,000 in the bank at the end of 2022, after raising just over $2 million last year.


        Then there’s the charisma department, where Schiff has little and Porter and Lee lots, an advantage that cannot be accurately measured until serious polling begins early next year.


        Anyone betting just now would likely expect a November 2024 runoff between Schiff and Porter, unless a yet-unknown and -undeclared Republican rises up soon to knock one of the Democrats out of the general election. Should Gov. Gavin Newsom opt to enter this race, it would of course change almost everything in this contest.


        But that appears unlikely just now, as does a solid Republican run for this open seat.



    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit







     California government bureaucrats call it the “Advanced Clean Car II Rule,” last August’s update to the state’s prior edict mandating that all new cars sold here be all-electric or plug-in hybrids by 2035. Between now and then, other benchmarks are also set, starting with 35 percent of new cars sold being EVs starting in 2026, just three years from today.


Since the rule passed, it’s been a theme for folks who like to bash California, from Texas to Florida to Ohio. They call it just one more unrealistic regulation making California a very tough place for businesses to operate.


        But it might not happen. And not merely because of doubts about the state's electric grid capacity to handle all that extra demand.


        With little fanfare, more than a dozen Republican state attorneys general just the other day filed a new court document claiming California’s move and the federal law that enabled it are unconstitutional.


        The top government lawyers from Texas, Ohio, West Virginia and others claim in their lawsuit that the waiver in the 1970 Clean Air Act giving California the right to regulate smog emissions from cars sold here “puts it on an uneven playing field compared to other states in violation of the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution," also giving this state unique power to regulate global climate change.


        The Clean Air Act waiver, first signed by then-Republican President Richard Nixon and later renewed by every president except Donald Trump, has been the authority behind many edicts from the California Air Resources Board. Those rulings, starting in the early ‘70s, led to innovations like early smog control devices, catalytic converters, hybrid cars, hydrogen cars, EVs and plug-ins.


        Each move was protested at first by almost all automakers as either impossible or prohibitively expensive, but all have turned out fine.


        The California rules carry extra clout that infuriates officials of some other states for two reasons: 1) the California car market is so large that manufacturers who want to sell nationwide figure it’s cheaper to make all their cars conform to California rules than to build different models for different places, and 2) 16 other states and the District of Columbia now automatically adopt California’s automotive rules five years after they become effective here. Those states make up 40 percent of the American vehicle market.


        None of that will last if the Republican attorneys general get their way. They are working in the federal court of appeals for the District of Columbia, from which both judges and cases often eventually move up to the Supreme Court.


        And the Supreme Court has been notably inconsistent on states’ rights since Trump’s three appointees provided it with a 6-3 conservative majority.


        That court has consistently upheld the California waiver in the Clean Air Act, but never with its current membership, dominated by conservative Republicans.



        So the survival of the waiver is not certain, despite the court’s putting abortion and other matters back under state jurisdiction. Not from a court whose majority justices took firearms policy out of state hands by making their preferences on carrying guns and other issues apply everywhere.


        It’s uncertain whether, when this case inevitably reaches them next year or in 2024, the Trump-appointed justices will essentially validate his attempt to take away California’s unique authority, which has led to both millions of cleaner cars and much cleaner air nationwide.


        For the waiver was originally granted by Nixon’s administration because of California’s unique geography, with many of its large cities, from Los Angeles to Sacramento to
Bakersfield and Fresno, sitting in basins where mountains or large ranges of hills hold smog in place for longer periods than in flatter environments, where any old wind can quickly blow it away.


        That’s why air is often dirtier in those California cities than in places like Cincinnati and Seattle, Portland, New Orleans or New York.


        Will the Supreme Court recognize that unique environments require unique tactics to retain their healthy environments? Or will the justices go along with states like West Virginia and Texas, which don’t mind smog so much because it doesn’t hang around very long.


        At stake here is a continuation of the drop in diseases from lung cancer to emphysema that has paralleled the advent of cleaner cars and light trucks. No one can yet know whether the Supreme Court majority will heed any of that.



    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit