EPA Reinstates California’s Ability to Set Emission Mandates


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has opted to reinstate California’s ability to set tailpipe rules and zero-emission vehicle mandates that are more rigid than federal standards. After quarreling for years over the Trump administration’s decision to roll back Obama-era fueling standards deemed untenable, the Golden State now has the ability to once again make harder for its citizens by forcing them to purchase the kind of vehicles it feels they should be driving — rather than leaving it up to the individual that’s actually buying the car.

Though it might not matter at this point. While California effectively served as a defensive shield against proposed fueling rollbacks while Trump was in office, the Biden administration strategy is broadly in line with its agenda of making gasoline unappetizing to consumers to ensure a speedy transition to electric vehicles. California doesn’t even want people to have access to gas-powered lawn care equipment. The state has effectively served as a test case for Build Back Better since before the phrase passed through the lips of a single politician. 

If you need a refresher on how we got here, we recently posted a recap on why fuel prices have gotten so high ahead of President Biden’s decision to ban Russian energy from coming into the United States. But, if you want a chronicling of government actors bickering about who gets to control what kind of car you drive over the last few years, I would suggest reviewing our Gas War series. It covers the formation of the conflict, automakers’ habitual switching of sides, California’s highly influential role, how a changing of the guard effectively secured a win for the Golden State, and just about everything in between.

There are dozens of articles covering the matter on this website. However, those preferring the abridged version need only know that waivers under the Clean Air Act allowing California to set its own emissions laws were being nixed under the rollback to prevent it from leveraging its size to influence the national market. Though that’s ultimately what happened anyway after numerous automakers and like-minded states vowed to adhere to Cali’s rules instead of rolling with more-lax rules proposed by the Trump administration. Now, the Biden EPA has opted to reinstate any privileges revoked by the previous White House.

“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 the same announcement, the agency also confirmed that it would be withdrawing the SAFE-1 interpretation of the Clean Air Act that would prohibit other states from adopting the California greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards. Any state may now formally choose to adopt and enforce California’s stringent standards, rather than national standards, through Section 177 of the Clean Air Act.

Late in 2021, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) similarly withdrew its contributions to the Trump administration’s rollback in the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule Part One.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has said the decisions solve remedies the prior presidency’s “groundless ​attack on a critical program that is based on California’s decades ​of experience setting emissions standards as authorized by law.”

Meanwhile, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced plans on Thursday to significantly increase electric vehicle requirements by 2030 to ensure gasoline-powered vehicles are entirely phased out by 2035. Though it should be said that the state has the absolute highest fuel prices in the whole country with an average of $5.70 per gallon for 87 octane.

While we could certainly speculate as to why our betters in the government have advised us to simply endure higher prices as part of our civic duty. Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have both suggested Americans annoyed with the rising cost of fuel quickly purchase electric vehicles — which typically retail for at least $10,000 over the average price of a new automobile in the United States. Tesla, whose CEO has been begging the government to allow for more oil production, also raised prices on its most affordable models this week after citing material costs. Shipping rates have likewise gone up across the board, with the trucking industry presently incapable of transitioning to EVs that don’t yet exist.

[Image: Konstantin Yolshin/Shutterstock]

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