AGs call for longer comment period on clean car standards

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 29, 2018

A coalition of 18 Democratic attorneys general today urged the Trump administration to extend the comment period for its proposed rollback of clean car standards.

In a letter, the attorneys general called for EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to extend the comment period from 60 days to 120 days. They also requested more public hearings on the proposal.

EPA and NHTSA earlier this month outlined a series of options for the Obama-era clean car rules. The preferred option was freezing fuel economy targets at 2020 levels through 2026, rather than maintaining the year-over-year increases that automakers agreed to under President Obama (Greenwire, Aug. 2).

A 60-day comment period is standard for proposed rules. But for major rules — defined as those that have an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more — agencies sometimes lengthen the comment period to give the public more time to weigh in.

“A 120-day comment period would be consistent with past practice for matters of similar importance and complexity, including EPA’s 2014 proposal to adopt the Clean Power Plan and its 2017 proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan,” the attorneys general wrote.

“Given the complexity and novelty of the legal and technical issues presented by the agencies’ proposal, the voluminous amount of materials accompanying the joint proposed rule which commenters must review, and the profound potential impacts of the proposal on human health and the environment, a 60-day comment period is wholly inadequate,” they added.

In addition, the attorneys general requested that EPA and NHTSA hold more public hearings on the cars proposal in cities whose residents could be affected.

The agencies are planning public hearings in Fresno, Calif.; Dearborn, Mich.; and Pittsburgh, according to a Federal Register notice published Friday.

But another public hearing in Sacramento, Calif., is warranted, the letter says, given the agencies’ proposal to attack California’s authority to set its own tougher tailpipe rules.

Under the Clean Air Act, California can obtain a waiver from EPA to set more stringent fuel efficiency standards than the federal government. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have adopted those standards. All 13 of those states signed the letter, including New York and Massachusetts.

But EPA and NHTSA earlier this month proposed rescinding California’s waiver, setting up a fierce legal showdown with the Golden State and the other states that have followed its lead.

To justify revoking the waiver, the agencies argued that California lacks the authority to regulate fuel economy under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. They also argued that California lacks the “compelling and extraordinary conditions” as required by Section 209 of the Clean Air Act.

“We ask that EPA, alone or in conjunction with NHTSA, hold an additional public hearing in California devoted exclusively to EPA’s unprecedented proposal to withdraw California’s Clean Air Act waiver — a subject not mentioned in the hearing announcement,” the letter says.

“While we dispute if Section 209 of the Clean Air Act authorizes EPA to revoke a waiver, that statute requires a public hearing for granting a waiver and EPA should provide no less process for its proposed revocation,” the letter says.

The attorneys general also requested additional hearings in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. A leaked pre-publication draft of a Federal Register notice, which was obtained by E&E News and first reported by Bloomberg, listed hearings in those cities on the cars proposal (Greenwire, Aug. 22).

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), who has brought a number of lawsuits against the Trump administration, took to Twitter yesterday to circulate the letter.

“.@RealDonaldTrump shouldn’t fear hearing the truth from the public about his destructive attack on #CleanCarStandards,” Becerra said in a tweet. “The environment we leave for our children deserves more than simply 60 days of comment.”