EPA Set to Return Authority Over Car Emissions Standards to California

Another domino fell in California’s quest to regain sway over the automotive industry as the Biden administration promises to “reconsider” a contentious Trump-era climate policy.

(CN) — California will soon recapture the ability to set its own strict car emissions standards as the Biden administration signaled Monday it was backing off a contentious Trump-era climate rule.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it was taking the first step in reversing the prior administration’s decision to revoke California’s longstanding waiver. The holdover policy, which drew lawsuits from California and various other states, has been on the chopping block since Biden’s victory last fall.

“I am a firm believer in California’s long-standing statutory authority to lead,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in a statement.The 2019 decision to revoke the state’s waiver to enforce its greenhouse gas pollution standards for cars and trucks was legally dubious and an attack on the public’s health and well-being.”

The move supplements action taken last week by the U.S. Department of Transportation to allow California and other willing states to enact car pollution standards that are stricter than the federal level. The department similarly said pulling California’s waiver was detrimental to the state — and President Biden’s — climate goals.

Both announcements cement a critical win for California, which will soon be allowed to resume its influence over the automotive industry.

Governor Gavin Newsom celebrated the announcement, claiming the state’s waiver has spurred major technological breakthroughs over the past decades.

“The unprecedented revocation of the waiver by the previous administration — lacking any modicum of technical, legal, or scientific support — cost consumers money at the pump and threatened their health with poor air quality,” Newsom said in a statement. “California welcomes the resumption of our decades-long collaboration with federal partners to develop strong vehicle emissions standards into the next decade.”

California’s Clean Air Act waiver, which has been renewed over 100 times since the 1970s, has forced automakers to continually produce cleaner, fuel-efficient cars to continue selling vehicles in California. In addition, over a dozen other states have adopted the Golden State’s car emissions policy.  

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 cast cast the move as an integral part of his war on red tape, saying it would free companies from regulatory burdens and lead to cheaper cars.

Automakers initially welcomed the idea one national standard emissions standard and many signed on to back the idea in court. However, companies like General Motors quickly jumped ship in wake of Biden’s election.

Critics meanwhile argued revoking California’s waiver would undo years of progress, as officials consider the reduction of tailpipe emissions critical to the state’s fight against smog. States that have adopted California’s standard include New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Illinois.

According to the EPA, cars and trucks accounted for 29% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. Overall global emissions from fossil fuels have steadily increased since the 1950s, with China, the U.S. and the European Union pinned as the top emitters.

The EPA also said it was reconsidering Trump’s proposal for a weakened national emissions standard and that a new proposal should be out in July. Public comment period on Monday’s proposed rule withdrawals will close on July 6, with a virtual public hearing on June 2.   

“Today, we are delivering on President Biden’s clear direction to tackle the climate crisis by taking a major step forward to restore state leadership and advance EPA’s greenhouse gas pollution reduction goals,” Regan said.  

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