Published: Thu, July 26, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

Trump Takes Aim at California's Highly Successful Auto Emissions Standards

Trump Takes Aim at California's Highly Successful Auto Emissions Standards

The Trump administration's EPA has spent the past year and a half laying the groundwork to roll back emissions standards that were finalized by the Obama administration's EPA during President Obama's final month in office, although the rules had been years in the making.

The most-populous USA state and 16 others plus the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit on May 2 seeking to block the Trump administration's effort to unravel the Obama-era emissions targets.

Jeff Holmstead, a Washington-based lawyer and assistant EPA administrator during the George W. Bush administration, said he has heard the White House will seek public comment on a range of proposals, floating the idea of revoking California's authority but not formally proposing it. The EPA and the federal transportation department will unveil a proposed legislation for the state, which will then be open for debate, before the agency makes a decision.

Under President Barack Obama, three disparate sets of fuel efficiency rules were tightened to match those already in place in California.

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Special provisions in the federal Clean Air Act allow states to either follow the federal requirements or adopt California's vehicle emission regulations.

President Trump is allegedly planning on going toe-to-toe with California over its emissions waiver and its EV sales mandate.

And a long legal fight between the state and federal governments could make it hard for the automakers to plan, since the process of designing, engineering and introducing a new vehicle typically takes more than three years, Brauer said. "To do so, we advocate maintaining the current standards that would raise the average fuel economy of the USA light-duty vehicle fleet to a projected 50.8 mpg by 2025 based on the current USA light-duty vehicle fleet mix". That authority would also be revoked with the Trump administration's action.

The move would also eliminate California's ability to mandate the purchase of electric vehicles, Reuters reported.

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Shortly after Trump's election, an auto industry lobbying group sent him a letter asking for more flexibility in the fuel-mileage program. In March 2017, former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt was reportedly looking at ways to remove California's waiver, according to a report from The New York Times. State regulators also worked closely with the Obama Administration to craft federal fuel economy standards that span well into the future. California and automakers agreed to the rules in 2012, setting a single national fuel economy standard.

NHTSA will likely assert that California no longer can impose its own greenhouse gas emissions from autos under the 1975 law that established the first federal fuel-efficiency requirements.

The issue is complicated by the fact that California is not alone in its pursuit of more stringent emissions standards.

"It's an open question whether that provision (in the Clean Air Act) was meant to only deal with local pollution involving extraordinary conditions", said Sivas, who was an attorney for Earth Justice, an environmental law firm. Jerry Brown said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit.

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