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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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EPA clears California to set its own car emission limits

The reversal of a Trump-era EPA decision clears the way for the Golden State to mandate that all cars sold after 2035 be zero-emission.

(CN) — U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency restored California's ability to set its own limits on car emissions, a reversal of a policy change enacted by former President Donald Trump.

"I thank the Biden administration for righting the reckless wrongs of the Trump administration and recognizing our decades-old authority to protect Californians and our planet,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom in a written statement. “The restoration of our state's Clean Air Act waiver is a major victory for the environment, our economy and the health of families across the country that comes at a pivotal moment underscoring the need to end our reliance on fossil fuels."

The 1970 federal Clean Air Act first gave California the authority to create its own standards for automobile pollution, by giving the state the ability to apply for a waiver to set stricter limits than the federal government's. One waiver rescinded by President George W. Bush was restored by President Barack Obama in 2013, but that was rescinded by Trump in 2019. The Trump administration's decision led to a lawsuit which is still pending in federal court.

The EPA reversed Trump's order Wednesday, writing, "the actions taken under the previous administration... were decided in error."

"It’s long awaited, and long overdue," said Bill Magavern, the Coalition for Clean Air's policy director. "The Biden administration is recognizing that the Trump administration had illegally tried to thwart California's long-standing authority under the Clean Air Act to set emissions standards that are stronger than the federal government's."

California is the only state in the country with the ability to apply for a Clean Air Act waiver. But other states can choose to follow California's stricter limits and a dozen states have chosen to do so, representing about 40% of light-duty vehicles sold in the nation. That means California's emissions limits have outsized effects on the car market.

"It definitely drives innovation in automobile manufacturing," said Magavern.

The long-term effects of the EPA's reversal could prove even more meaningful. In 2020, Governor Newsom signed an executive order mandating that beginning in 2035, all vehicles sold in the state must be "zero-emission," meaning they can't burn fossil fuels including gasoline. The waiver reinstatement clears the way for California to pursue that plan — at least for now.

It also allows the state to set higher fuel efficiency standards, forcing vehicles to get more miles per gallon. The Trump administration had said that would lead to smaller vehicles, which it said are more dangerous for drivers and passengers.

"The California standards for cars sold means that it pushes the envelope on greener vehicles out in the rest of the country," said Brandon Dawson, director of Sierra Club California. "Manufacturers will want to produce green cars that they’ll sell in other states as well."

The EPA reports automobiles are the leading source of air pollution in the United States, and make up nearly a quarter of all carbon emissions in the U.S.

"Our partnership with states to confront the climate crisis has never been more important," said EPA Administrator Michael Regan, in a written statement. "With today’s action, we reinstate an approach that for years has helped advance clean technologies and cut air pollution for people not just in California, but for the U.S. as a whole.”

California has the highest gas prices in the country, averaging just over $5.50 per gallon, according to AAA. A year ago, the price was about $3.75 per gallon. During Tuesday's State of the State speech, Newsom said he'd be proposing some sort of gas tax rebate aimed at offsetting the skyrocketing cost of fuel. Details of the plan remain unclear.

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Categories / Environment, Government

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