Biden restores California’s ability to set its own car pollution rules

Cars head into downtown LA during the morning commute on April 22, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

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The Biden administration restores California’s authority to set its own rules on greenhouse gas emissions from cars, pickup trucks and SUVs, a move that reverses a Trump-era decision and puts California in the forefront of the fight against climate change in the United States.

The decision reinstates a Clean Air Act waiver that allows California to adopt stricter fuel economy standards than the federal government and sets a precedent for the rest of the country on how to mitigate vehicle emissions. . The state’s past ability to control vehicle emissions has led to innovative strategies in the automotive industry, such as catalytic converters, which convert toxic gases and pollutants in exhaust gases into less toxic pollutants. , as well as the “check engine” lights.

The transportation sector is a major source of greenhouse gases in the United States, accounting for 29% of the nation’s emissions. California, the nation’s most populous state, is home to a slew of congested highways that pump carbon pollution into the atmosphere and create smog-filled skies above cities like Los Angeles.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have adopted California’s stricter standards. The California Air Resources Board will determine how to apply them.

Under the Clean Air Act, the state has the option to receive permission from the federal government to set its own rules on exhaust standards that help reduce emissions from gasoline-powered vehicles. California established the first exhaust emission standards in the country in 1966.

The Trump administration in 2019 revoked California’s power to regulate its own air quality, arguing that it would not allow “one-state political agendas” to set national policy. The move was part of a broader rollback of Obama-era vehicle emissions standards and climate change regulations.

“Today we proudly reaffirm California’s longstanding authority as a leader in the fight against pollution from cars and trucks,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said Wednesday. in a press release. “Our partnership with states to address the climate crisis has never been more important.”

“With today’s action, we are restoring an approach that for years has helped advance clean technologies and reduce air pollution for residents not just in California, but across the country. entire United States,” Regan said.

“When you’re clearing a traffic jam, the first thing you do is take your foot off the brake,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who also serves as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “The Biden administration is doing just that by restoring California’s longstanding authority under the Clean Air Act to set exhaust standards.”

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone said in a statement that the Biden administration’s decision undoes one of Trump’s “most absurd and indefensible actions.”

“Today’s action is a win for everyone as the waiver helps states improve air quality for communities across the country, spurs American innovation of clean vehicle technology and ensures consumers have access to the most advanced and efficient vehicles possible,” said Pallone.

The Biden administration’s move will also help California meet its goal of phasing out all new gas-powered passenger cars and trucks by 2035.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced the pledge in 2020, saying it would cut state emissions by 35%. California also has rules requiring that a certain percentage of new vehicle sales be electric or zero-emissions.

“I thank the Biden administration for righting the reckless wrongs of the Trump administration and acknowledging our decades-old authority to protect Californians and our planet,” Newsom said in a statement.

Newsom said the decision “also comes at a pivotal time underscoring the need to end our dependence on fossil fuels.”

On Wednesday, environmental groups strongly welcomed the EPA’s decision to reinstate the Clean Air Act waiver.

Michelle Robinson, director of the clean transportation program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Trump’s reversal was based on a “deeply flawed understanding of the law and thwarted states’ ability to take meaningful action to limit emissions. of carbon”.

“Today’s reinstatement of the waiver is an important step in the fight to preserve critical environmental regulations rolled back by the Trump administration,” Robinson said.

Luke Tonachel, director of clean vehicles and fuels at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said states have led the movement to clean up tailpipe pollution and move the country toward cleaner vehicles.

“While the previous administration tried to undermine that authority, the law clearly gives California and other states the ability to adopt standards to reduce pollution affecting the health of their citizens,” Tonachel said. “Reaffirming this legal authority will protect public health and help address the climate crisis.”

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