(CN) — Carried off via the shifting political winds thousands of miles away in Washington D.C., the threat of smog regaining its once devastating foothold over California’s sunny skies weakened on Wednesday.
California officials and environmentalists are claiming victory after President Joe Biden directed federal regulators to put the brakes on his predecessor’s attempt to gift automakers with a nationwide fuel emissions standard that would have allowed them to produce cheaper, dirtier cars.
“We’re going to combat climate change in a way we have not before,” Biden said before signing a flurry of executive orders meant to reverse the Trump administration’s lax regulations.
Forcing the automakers to play by the state’s rules to gain access to its lucrative market, Biden reinstalled California’s ability to set its own rigorous mileage and emissions standards.
In another rebuke of former President Donald Trump’s environmental agenda, Biden’s decision ends a multi-year battle between the feds and California over vehicle efficiency standards.
The Trump administration stunned state officials and environmentalists in August 2018 when it proposed rolling back vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards that were intended to nearly double passenger vehicle’s fuel economy and halve their carbon emissions by 2025.
Trump attempted to cast the move as part of his war on red-tape, saying it would free companies from regulatory burdens and lead to cheaper cars.
The move incited lawsuits by California and a coalition of prominent environmental groups, but a variety of major automakers welcomed the easing of the Obama-era rules.
Within months of the filing of the federal lawsuits, companies like Toyota, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler aligned with the federal government, while others like Ford, Honda and Volkswagen said they would comply with California’s regulations.
Environmentalists appreciated Biden’s rash of climate-oriented actions, but urged him not to be swayed by the auto industry during future emissions talks.
“It’s great that President Biden will make it a top priority to issue new clean cars standards: his challenge will be making them as stringent as they will need to be to prevent severe climate change and its devastating consequences,” said Dan Becker, director at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Safe Climate Transport Campaign.
“Given the automakers’ cheating and reneging on prior clean car standards, President Biden should not negotiate with these untrustworthy companies but instruct EPA to write tough standards and implement them.”
California was the first state to implement fuel efficiency standards and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has renewed its waiver over 100 different times since the 1970s. Officials view the unique ability as the linchpin of the state’s air quality laws and argued in court the Trump administration’s shift could damage public health.
CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld applauded Biden’s order Wednesday evening.
“During the past four years, in the absence of federal leadership, California has served as an environmental backstop where we have continued to take bold actions to reduce carbon pollution from vehicles,” he said in a statement. “Thankfully, on day one of the Biden administration, the President has reinforced and validated California’s role in setting strong zero-emission vehicle standards, including phasing out the sale of gasoline-fueled vehicles by 2035.”
The waiver has allowed California, and over a dozen other states which have adopted its rules, to force automakers to help fight smog in order to sell new cars.
While the Trump administration went through a lengthy process to enact the so-called Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule, Tuesday’s reversal nixes automakers’ hopes for one national standard and shifts power back to California and the states.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, who has proposed a ban on the sale of new gasoline powered passenger cars by 2040, credited the new Democratic president for sticking up for the environment.
“We are BACK — and with a leader that isn’t scared to say the words ‘climate change is real.’” Newsom tweeted Wednesday.