California is gearing up for a big fight with Trump over our right to set high fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. In order to surpass the fuel efficiency standards established under the federal Clean Air Act, California must get a waiver from the EPA. This waiver has been granted since the inception of the Clean Air Act, but there is some indication that the Trump administration may decide to break with precedent and deny California this waiver, a move that could have far-reaching consequences.  

According to an interview with environmental law professor Deborah Silvas, revocation of the waiver may make it difficult for the United State to address climate change in the coming decades. It could hinder California’s climate policy, and it could have severe impacts on public health. So, how did it come to this, and why are these tougher standards so critically important?

First, some historical context

First, a quick history lesson based mainly on an interview with Silvas in The Atlantic (which I encourage you to read it in it’s entirety).

California’s tailpipe laws predate the 1970 Clean Air Act, which gives the EPA the power to set standards for automobiles and factories. In the sixties, California became the first governmental body to enact its own clean air laws. California took tough action on emissions because our state’s air pollution, particularly in the LA Basin, was severe.

California maintained its own laws after the passing of the Clean Air Act. Our standards are explicitly mentioned in the Act, allowing California to ask for a waiver from the federal standards. If our rules are “at least as protective of public health and welfare” as the EPA’s, then the waiver “shall” be granted.

Since 1970, the only time this waiver was withheld was under George W Bush. California sued, but before the case could be decided, Obama was elected and California’s Clean Air Act waiver. was granted. Since  the  Bush case was dismissed, there is no legal precedent for a denial of the waiver.  During the Obama administration, California standards were harmonized with federal greenhouse rules. (For more about federal regulations on automakers, check out this article from Vox.)

Why we should care, deeply, about fuel efficiency  

The waiver only applies to tailpipe standards, and no other state can adopt its own rules in this fashion. However— and this part of the reason that our standards are so important— other states can adopt California’s standards; indeed, fifteen states do. This means that our stringent emissions standards actually cover more than 40% of Americans. California is still the country’s largest auto market, and any car dealership in a state bordering a state that takes the waiver can sell cars that are in compliance with California’s laws.

Although California can regulate greenhouse gas emissions from other sources, we can only regulate tailpipe emissions as long as the federal waiver is granted. Since the national standards will probably be compromised by the Trump administration, it is imperative that we keep California’s standards intact. Due to the long timeline for emissions regulations and the slow turnover for automobiles, reversing or weakening California’s emissions standards now will impact actual emissions for decades (thus harming the climate for centuries).

If Republicans are successful in revoking California’s right to regulate emissions, it will be for model years 2022 to 2025 and possibly 2025 to 2030. Tailpipe emissions account for about one third of America’s total emissionsmore than power plants. We simply cannot address climate change without some way to deal with cars.

Why is there opposition to these standards?

So, why on earth would Republicans want to dismantle clean air laws, which reduce emissions and help protect human health? Car companies are now lobbying the Trump Administration to lift national fuel efficiency standards set by the EPA, complaining that the requirements to build fuel efficient cars are costly and difficult to fulfill (for more on why auto industry complaints about consumer choice are misleading, see this Union of Concerned Scientists blog post).

Trump announced on March 15 that he would respond to the complaints of the auto industry by restarting a review of national vehicle fuel efficiency standards. “We’re going to work on the CAFE standards so you can make cars in America again,” Trump said.

These federal rules, which were put forward by Obama, sought to raise the fleet average fuel efficiency to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025 from 27.5 miles per gallon in 2010 (this sounds high, but fuel efficiency standards use a different metric than the “sticker” or “real-world” MPG number than we’re used to. So, 51.4 mpg-e ends up being around 36 MPG).   

Regarding California’s waiver… during his confirmation hearings, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said, in response to Senator Kamala Harris’s questioning: “Administrators in the past have not granted the waiver and have granted the waiver. That is a review process that will be conducted.”

When Sen. Harris asked about his intentions, Pruitt replied: “I wouldn’t know without going through the process and would not want to presume the outcome.”

California is already fighting back

Soon after Trump announced his plans to weaken federal standards, 22 California State Senators wrote to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, supporting his efforts to take legal action against the rollback of federal standards.  Becerra has filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit that the automobile manufacturers filed against U.S. EPA; the automakers group challenged the standards for model years 2022 to 2025.

A week after Trump’s comments about reevaluating the federal standards, the California Air Resources Board announced that California would move forward with its Advanced Clean Cars Program to adopt progressively stricter emissions regulations and a requirement that automakers sell more zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs). California’s zero-emissions vehicle program is also made possible by a waiver from the EPA.

Will the waiver survive?

Scott Pruitt may choose to pull the waiver for greenhouse gas emissions only— not including toxics. This strategy might have a greater chance of success than withdrawing the waiver entirely (there is no mechanism to do this in the Clean Air Act), or revoking California’s ability to regulate toxic air pollutants (which has never been tried before). The Republican congress might even try to amend the Clean Air Act to remove California’s waiver.  

Now that you’re sufficiently outraged…

Stay tuned for action alerts! Here are some things you can do now:

  • Thank your representative when they show their resolve to stand up for California’s clean air and fuel efficiency standards, enacted almost 50 years ago to protect public health and reduce air pollution.
  • Let your congressperson know that California’s clean air and a strong climate action matter to you—and that you want our fuel efficiency standards to remain in effect.
  • Tell ARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols (mnichols@arb.ca.gov) that you support the state standing up to protect our state clean air standards, including fighting in the courts if necessary.
  • Buying or leasing a car? Make sure to look for an electric vehicle (EV) or high gas mileage model (you can go to www.fueleconomy.gov to look for efficient models). You may even be able to find a bargain on a used EV. Also, tell auto dealers: Clean cars + high mileage = better health and better economics for California.

 

Sources

Meyer, Robinson. 2017. The Coming Clean Air War Between Trump and California. The Atlantic, March 6, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/03/trump-california-clean-air-act-waiver-climate-change/518649/?platform=hootsuite&utm_source=twb. Accessed 3/26/2017

 

Davenport, Coral. 2017. Trump to Undo Vehicle Rules that Curb Global Warming. The New York Times. March 3, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/us/politics/trump-vehicle-emissions-regulation.html Accessed 3/26/2017

 

Cooke, Dave. 2017. The 3 Biggest Mistakes You’ll Read in Transportation Stories This Year. Union of Concerned Scientists Blog. January 21, 2016 http://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-cooke/three-biggest-mistakes-transportation-stories

Accessed 3/26/2017

 

Plumer, Brad. 2016. Power Plants are no longer America’s Biggest Climate Problem— transportation is. Vox. June 13, 2016. http://www.vox.com/2016/6/13/11911798/emissions-electricity-versus-transportation

Accessed 3/26/2017

 

Leavenworth, Stuart. 2017. Trump’s EPA pick won’t guarantee California’s right to tougher auto emissions rules. McClatchy DC Bureau. January 18, 2017. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/congress/article127330159.html

Accessed 3/26/2017

 

Mallin, Alexander and Avery Miller. 2017. Trump puts brakes on Obama-era auto emissions regulations in Michigan visit. Abcnews. Mar 15, 2017.http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-expected-announce-rollback-auto-emissions-regulations-michigan/story?id=46133053

Accessed 3/26/2017

California is gearing up for a big fight with Trump over our right to set high fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. In order to surpass the fuel efficiency standards established under the federal Clean Air Act, California must get a waiver from the EPA. This waiver has been granted since the inception of the Clean Air Act, but there is some indication that the Trump administration may decide to break with precedent and deny California this waiver, a move that could have far-reaching consequences.  

 

According to an interview with environmental law professor Deborah Silvas, revocation of the waiver may make it difficult for the United State to address climate change in the coming decades. It could hinder California’s climate policy, and it could have severe impacts on public health. So, how did it come to this, and why are these tougher standards so critically important?

 

First, some historical context

 

First, a quick history lesson based mainly on an interview with Silvas in The Atlantic (which I encourage you to read it in it’s entirety).

 

California’s tailpipe laws predate the 1970 Clean Air Act, which gives the EPA the power to set standards for automobiles and factories. In the sixties, California became the first governmental body to enact its own clean air laws. California took tough action on emissions because our state’s air pollution, particularly in the LA Basin, was severe.

 

California maintained its own laws after the passing of the Clean Air Act. Our standards are explicitly mentioned in the Act, allowing California to ask for a waiver from the federal standards. If our rules are “at least as protective of public health and welfare” as the EPA’s, then the waiver “shall” be granted.

 

Since 1970, the only time this waiver was withheld was under George W Bush. California sued, but before the case could be decided, Obama was elected and California’s Clean Air Act waiver. was granted. Since  the  Bush case was dismissed, there is no legal precedent for a denial of the waiver.  During the Obama administration, California standards were harmonized with federal greenhouse rules. (For more about federal regulations on automakers, check out this article from Vox.)

 

Why we should care, deeply, about fuel efficiency  

 

The waiver only applies to tailpipe standards, and no other state can adopt its own rules in this fashion. However— and this part of the reason that our standards are so important— other states can adopt California’s standards; indeed, fifteen states do. This means that our stringent emissions standards actually cover more than 40% of Americans. California is still the country’s largest auto market, and any car dealership in a state bordering a state that takes the waiver can sell cars that are in compliance with California’s laws.

 

Although California can regulate greenhouse gas emissions from other sources, we can only regulate tailpipe emissions as long as the federal waiver is granted. Since the national standards will probably be compromised by the Trump administration, it is imperative that we keep California’s standards intact. Due to the long timeline for emissions regulations and the slow turnover for automobiles, reversing or weakening California’s emissions standards now will impact actual emissions for decades (thus harming the climate for centuries).

 

If Republicans are successful in revoking California’s right to regulate emissions, it will be for model years 2022 to 2025 and possibly 2025 to 2030. Tailpipe emissions account for about one third of America’s total emissionsmore than power plants. We simply cannot address climate change without some way to deal with cars.

 

Why is there opposition to these standards?

 

So, why on earth would Republicans want to dismantle clean air laws, which reduce emissions and help protect human health? Car companies are now lobbying the Trump Administration to lift national fuel efficiency standards set by the EPA, complaining that the requirements to build fuel efficient cars are costly and difficult to fulfill (for more on why auto industry complaints about consumer choice are misleading, see this Union of Concerned Scientists blog post).

 

Trump announced on March 15 that he would respond to the complaints of the auto industry by restarting a review of national vehicle fuel efficiency standards. “We’re going to work on the CAFE standards so you can make cars in America again,” Trump said.

 

These federal rules, which were put forward by Obama, sought to raise the fleet average fuel efficiency to more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025 from 27.5 miles per gallon in 2010 (this sounds high, but fuel efficiency standards use a different metric than the “sticker” or “real-world” MPG number than we’re used to. So, 51.4 mpg-e ends up being around 36 MPG).   

 

Regarding California’s waiver… during his confirmation hearings, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said, in response to Senator Kamala Harris’s questioning: “Administrators in the past have not granted the waiver and have granted the waiver. That is a review process that will be conducted.”

 

When Sen. Harris asked about his intentions, Pruitt replied: “I wouldn’t know without going through the process and would not want to presume the outcome.”

 

California is already fighting back

 

Soon after Trump announced his plans to weaken federal standards, 22 California State Senators wrote to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, supporting his efforts to take legal action against the rollback of federal standards.  Becerra has filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit that the automobile manufacturers filed against U.S. EPA; the automakers group challenged the standards for model years 2022 to 2025.

 

A week after Trump’s comments about reevaluating the federal standards, the California Air Resources Board announced that California would move forward with its Advanced Clean Cars Program to adopt progressively stricter emissions regulations and a requirement that automakers sell more zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs). California’s zero-emissions vehicle program is also made possible by a waiver from the EPA.

 

Will the waiver survive?

 

Scott Pruitt may choose to pull the waiver for greenhouse gas emissions only— not including toxics. This strategy might have a greater chance of success than withdrawing the waiver entirely (there is no mechanism to do this in the Clean Air Act), or revoking California’s ability to regulate toxic air pollutants (which has never been tried before). The Republican congress might even try to amend the Clean Air Act to remove California’s waiver.  

 

Now that you’re sufficiently outraged…

 

Stay tuned for action alerts! Here are some actions you can take now:

 

  • Thank your representative when they show their resolve to stand up for California’s clean air and fuel efficiency standards, enacted almost 50 years ago to protect public health and reduce air pollution.

 

  • Let your congressperson know that California’s clean air and a strong climate action matter to you—and that you want our fuel efficiency standards to remain in effect.

 

  • Tell ARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols ((916) 322-5840) that you support the state standing up to protect our state clean air standards, including fighting in the courts if necessary.

 

  • Buying or leasing a car? Make sure to look for an electric vehicle (EV) or high gas mileage model (you can go to www.fueleconomy.gov to look for efficient models). You may even be able to find a bargain on a used EV. Also, tell auto dealers: Clean cars + high mileage = better health and better economics for California.

 

Sources

Meyer, Robinson. 2017. The Coming Clean Air War Between Trump and California. The Atlantic, March 6, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/03/trump-california-clean-air-act-waiver-climate-change/518649/?platform=hootsuite&utm_source=twb. Accessed 3/26/2017

Davenport, Coral. 2017. Trump to Undo Vehicle Rules that Curb Global Warming. The New York Times. March 3, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/03/us/politics/trump-vehicle-emissions-regulation.html Accessed 3/26/2017

Cooke, Dave. 2017. The 3 Biggest Mistakes You’ll Read in Transportation Stories This Year. Union of Concerned Scientists Blog. January 21, 2016 http://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-cooke/three-biggest-mistakes-transportation-stories Accessed 3/26/2017

Plumer, Brad. 2016. Power Plants are no longer America’s Biggest Climate Problem— transportation is. Vox. June 13, 2016. http://www.vox.com/2016/6/13/11911798/emissions-electricity-versus-transportation Accessed 3/26/2017

Leavenworth, Stuart. 2017. Trump’s EPA pick won’t guarantee California’s right to tougher auto emissions rules. McClatchy DC Bureau. January 18, 2017. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/congress/article127330159.html Accessed 3/26/2017

Mallin, Alexander and Avery Miller. 2017. Trump puts brakes on Obama-era auto emissions regulations in Michigan visit. Abcnews. Mar 15, 2017.http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/trump-expected-announce-rollback-auto-emissions-regulations-michigan/story?id=46133053 Accessed 3/26/2017

Cockerham, Sean. 2017. Fearing Trump threat to state emissions law, California lawmakers plan a fight. The Sacramento Bee. March 9, 2017 http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article137539733.html#storylink=cpy Accessed 3/26/2017

Kasler, Dale. 2017. California vs. Trump: California regulators move forward on climate change rules. The Sacramento Bee. March 24, 2017 http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article140631063.html#storylink=cpy Accessed 3/26/2017

Office of Kevin de León. 2017. Senate Democrats Support Intervention to Protect California’s Clean Air Standards. March 17, 2017. sd24.senate.ca.gov/news/2017-03-17-senate-democrats-support-intervention-protect-california’s-clean-air-standards

Mulkearn, Anne C. 2017. Democrats seek ‘decisive’ action against Trump mileage move. E&E News. March 20, 2017. http://www.eenews.net/climatewire/stories/1060051708

Government Publishing Office. 2013. 42 U.S.C.Title 42 CHAPTER 85 Part A Sec. 7543. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2013-title42/html/USCODE-2013-title42-chap85-subchapII-partA-sec7543.htm Accessed 3/26/2017

USEPA. 2017. Final Determination on the Appropriateness of the Model Year 2022-2025 Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards under the Midterm Evaluation. EPA-420-R-17-001 January 2017. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-01/documents/420r17001.pdf

USEPA. 2017. Vehicle Emissions California Waivers and Authorizations. https://www.epa.gov/state-and-local-transportation/vehicle-emissions-california-waivers-and-authorizations. Updated January 2017. Accessed 4/14/2017.

US Dept of Energy. 2017. Find and Compare Cars. http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/findacar.shtml 2017. Accessed 4/14/2017

Cockerham, Sean. 2017. Fearing Trump threat to state emissions law, California lawmakers plan a fight. The Sacramento Bee. March 9, 2017 http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article137539733.html#storylink=cpy Accessed 3/26/2017

Kasler, Dale. 2017. California vs. Trump: California regulators move forward on climate change rules. The Sacramento Bee. March 24, 2017

http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article140631063.html#storylink=cpy Accessed 3/26/2017

Office of Kevin de León. 2017. Senate Democrats Support Intervention to Protect California’s Clean Air Standards. March 17, 2017. sd24.senate.ca.gov/news/2017-03-17-senate-democrats-support-intervention-protect-california’s-clean-air-standards

Mulkearn, Anne C. 2017. Democrats seek ‘decisive’ action against Trump mileage move. E&E News. March 20, 2017. http://www.eenews.net/climatewire/stories/1060051708

Government Publishing Office. 2013. 42 U.S.C.Title 42 CHAPTER 85 Part A Sec. 7543. https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2013-title42/html/USCODE-2013-title42-chap85-subchapII-partA-sec7543.htm Accessed 3/26/2017

USEPA. 2017. Final Determination on the Appropriateness of the Model Year 2022-2025 Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards under the Midterm Evaluation. EPA-420-R-17-001 January 2017. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-01/documents/420r17001.pdf

USEPA. 2017. Vehicle Emissions California Waivers and Authorizations. https://www.epa.gov/state-and-local-transportation/vehicle-emissions-california-waivers-and-authorizations. Updated January 2017. Accessed 4/14/2017.

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