Breaking News: The Uncertain Future of California's Vehicle Emission Standards

December 6, 2018 10:30 am — 12:00 pm
Webinar only

ELI Member Breaking News Event

The Trump administration has proposed to revoke California’s long-standing authority to set its own vehicle emission standards in its new fuel economy standards plan. Join ELI, Farella Braun + Martel, and expert panelists for ELI’s Breaking News: The Uncertain Future of California’s Vehicle Emission Standards. As leading panelists look forward, they will also briefly look backwards to the establishment of standards regulating pollution from tailpipes in California, the first of its kind in the U.S. Section 209 of the Clean Air Act amendments that named California as the only state allowed an exception to set its own standards, an exception that if altered will have significant implications for the future of climate and environmental law nationwide and especially in California.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) released a plan on August 2 to freeze in 2020 the fuel standards set in 2012. While the old rule set gradually increasing standards from 2017 to 2025, ultimately to reach an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon (currently 38.3), this new plan would freeze the 2020 levels for six years, requiring an average fuel economy of 37 miles per gallon until 2026. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) mandates the Department of Transportation (DOT) to set fuel economy standards for passenger automobiles (cars) and non-passenger automobiles (light trucks), an authority the DOT has delegated to the NHTSA, preempting any state laws regulating the same. The new plan would also revoke the Section 209 waiver of the Clean Air Act that allows California to set its own emission standards as well as Section 177, which allows other states to adopt California’s standards. The success of California in mitigating air pollution and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under Section 209—and that of the 15 states that have invoked Section 177—is now in jeopardy. The Trump administration has argued that the Section 209 waiver was not intended to “solve climate change” and that the new standards would save consumers $500 billion. Critics, however, have decried this as a major lost opportunity to make significant progress on reducing GHG emissions, of which the transportation sector is one of the leading contributors, especially as some manufacturers use California’s standards nationwide. They have also pointed out that this is in contradiction to the administration’s stated preference to allow states flexibility to accomplish environmental goals in their own ways. If the administration goes through with implementing the rule following the 60-day comment period, California and the other states, backed by environmental advocates, will likely head to court.

Buzz Hines, Partner, Farella Braun + Martel LLP, Moderator
Ann Carlson, Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law and Faculty Co-Director, Emmett Institute on Climate, University of California, Los Angeles
Ben Grumbles, Secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment

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