The U.S Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration yanked California’s ability to set vehicle emission standards tighter than federal ones, as promised. The Sept. 18 revocation of the state’s waiver authority under the federal Clean Air Act also undermines California’s zero emissions vehicle program, further undermining its climate protection work.
Mary Nichols, California Air Resources Board chair, called the federal action, “a bitter move,” during the Board’s Sept 19 meeting. The Trump Administration’s effort to flat line federal greenhouse gas emission standards for cars and light trucks is “contrary to the law and what is right,” she said. It is a “new low” in federal-state relations.
The federal agencies claimed California’s emissions reduction rules are preempted by federal standards.
The Air Board is assessing where to get emission cuts. Climate pollution increases are expected from the state’s greenhouse gas vehicle and zero emission rules being jeopardized by the Trump Administration.
The transportation sector produces half of the state’s emissions.
Bill MaGavern, Coalition for Clean Air policy director, applauded the Air Board for fighting to defend its waiver rights. He noted that not only will greenhouse gas emissions rise but so too will criteria pollutants, worsening public health impacts.
MaGavern urged the Air Board “to hasten the electrification of the heavy duty truck sector,” require oil refiners to cut emissions, remove small refineries’ exemption from the renewable fuels standard, and accelerate spending of funds to slash the amount of vehicle miles traveled.
Nichols also took aim at the U.S. Department of Justice for launching an anti-competitive probe of the four automakers that reached a deal with California on tailpipe emission standards. Ford, BMW, VW and Mercedes are being “persecuted,” she said.
“Many auto manufacturers wish to continue reducing greenhouse gases and making major electrification investments but face major legal uncertainty,” Ellen Peters, CARB chief counsel, told the board at the Thursday meeting. She said her staff was looking at upholding the voluntary emissions agreement with car makers under the Board’s enforcement and contract authority.
Litigation over the revoking of the waiver, the second in the 50-year-old Air Act’s history, will last for years, creating huge uncertainty for automakers, Peters said. “I predict CARB will win.”
California’s tailpipe emissions and zero emissions car standards, and those of 13 other states mirroring the Golden State’s, will be thrust into limbo in 60 days.