As California zooms toward a future of cleaner cars and a healthier planet, Missouri remains stuck in neutral. The decision by California regulators to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered automobiles by 2035 is potentially a more transformative move than anything the federal government is doing on climate change.

But Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a U.S. Senate candidate who never met a wrongheaded lawsuit he wouldn’t endorse, has joined other Republican attorneys general in suing to prevent California from setting its own emissions standards — an ironic position from a candidate who supposedly venerates states’ rights against federal meddling. Blatant hypocrisy is the least of the reasons this suit should be scuttled.

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In a long-expected decision, the California Air Resources Board on Thursday was set to issue a rule requiring that a rising percentage of new vehicles sold in the state in the coming years emit zero greenhouse gases, culminating in the complete ban on new-car emissions as of 2035. Gas-powered automobiles are America’s top source of greenhouse gases, which trap the sun’s heat in the atmosphere and contribute significantly to human-caused global warming.

Zero-emission cars are by definition electric cars. To some extent, California’s move effectively just accelerates trends that the market was forging anyway. General Motors already had a goal of selling only electric vehicles by 2035, and California’s new policy is sure to ramp up such efforts from other manufacturers nationally. That broader electric-car market will in turn bring down sticker prices and spur the opening of more recharging stations, removing two roadblocks to an all-electric future.

But another roadblock remains. The pending lawsuit argues that California shouldn’t be allowed to set its own emissions standards. Schmitt, playing to the Trumpian base as usual, issued a statement vowing to “fight California’s efforts to impose their radical policies on the rest of the country.”

That dishonest interpretation ignores the fact that any policy changes Missouri or any other state might have to make won’t be mandated by California’s policy, but by free-market forces that result from it — the kind of forces Republicans used to praise.

What Schmitt is really arguing is that California should have to do whatever the feds say regarding emissions standards. As always, his putative principles are situational. This is the same attorney general who defends Missouri’s indefensible law claiming the state doesn’t have to abide by federal gun statues.

“It’s the United STATES of America,” Schmitt tweeted late last year, by way of arguing the federal government couldn’t impose pandemic policies on the states. “The states created the federal government to be a government of LIMITED powers … My job is to fight back when overreach happens.”

Unless the overreach prevents America from moving toward climate sanity — then, apparently, it’s fine. When Schmitt decides where he actually stands on federalism, perhaps he’ll let Missouri know.

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