EPA officially reinstates California's authority to craft its own vehicle emissions standards

The Environmental Protection Agency has restored California’s authority to implement its own greenhouse gas emission standards and zero-emission vehicle sales mandates, the agency announced Wednesday. It is also allowing other states to adopt California’s stricter standards in lieu of the federal rules.

This move officially reverses a Trump-era action that had revoked the Golden State’s authority to set its own vehicle emission standards, amid an environmental battle between the Trump administration and the state. In 2019, the Trump administration rolled back California’s decades-old waiver that had allowed it to set its own air pollution standards.
The EPA signaled last month that the move was coming.
    “Today we proudly reaffirm California’s longstanding authority to lead in addressing pollution from cars and trucks,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “Our partnership with states to confront the climate crisis has never been more important. 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.”
      In 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order on public health and the climate crisis, which included instructing agencies to review the Trump-era fuel emissions action, known as SAFE-1.
        As part of Wednesday’s announcement, the EPA has decided to rescind the SAFE-1 action, the agency said. As a result, the waiver granted to California “to implement its Advanced Clean Car (ACC) program in 2013 is back in force,” according to an EPA fact sheet.
        In rescinding the SAFE-1 action, the EPA said Wednesday, it is “withdrawing the SAFE-1 interpretation of the Clean Air Act that would prohibit other states from adopting the California [greenhouse gas] emission standards,” according to the fact sheet.
          This means other states are now allowed to adopt California’s emission standards in lieu of federal standards, in accordance with the Clean Air Act.
          “When you clear a traffic jam, the first thing you do is take your foot off the brake. That’s exactly what the Biden Administration is doing by reinstating California’s long-standing authority under the Clean Air Act to set tailpipe standards and allow other states, like Delaware, to adopt them,” said Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
          California Air Resources Board member Daniel Sperling previously told CNN the state won’t use its waiver to implement stronger standards for cars and light trucks, and the state will instead implement Biden’s national EPA standards, which will increase the fuel mileage rule for cars and trucks to 40 miles per gallon by the 2026 model year.
          Where California will likely go further than the federal government is in standards for heavy-duty trucks, Sperling said.
          “I would say California wants everyone to go forward fast” on zero-emission vehicles, Sperling said. “If you look at political realities, the attitude is yes, we have to be the leader because the feds are not, and other states are not following fast.”
          Biden’s national climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, said in a statement that Wednesday’s announcement along with the EPA’s new tailpipe rules “provide the opportunity for the Biden-Harris Administration and the State of California under Governor Newsom’s leadership, to once again move forward in the direction of a harmonized national program that will benefit families all across America.”
            The increase of fuel mileage standards — nationally and in California — plays a pivotal role in Biden’s climate agenda. Transportation emissions account for nearly 30% of US greenhouse gas emissions. The new national standards will prevent billions of tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, according to the EPA.
            “In addition to helping us meet our climate goals, this action will reduce pollution in communities across the country, save Americans money at the gas pump, and strengthen our nation’s energy independence,” said Carper.

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