Calif. digs in on existing clean car rules

Source: Zack Colman, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, August 8, 2018

California outlined its plan to maintain stringent vehicle fuel efficiency standards today despite the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken the rule.

The California Air Resources Board said in a report that it intends to clarify that its decision to comply with federal fuel rules applies only to existing levels. Any moves that weaken emissions and fuel economy targets would no longer be applicable with the Golden State’s laws.

“This proposal is contrary to the facts and the law. It is belied by the comprehensive, multiyear analysis of the initial Final Determination that found the standards cost-effective and achievable,” CARB Executive Officer Richard Corey said in a notice announcing the plan.

CARB plans to vote on the proposal next month, a quick turnaround for the agency.

California has maintained a right to set stricter air pollution limits under the Clean Air Act to address its notoriously smoggy skies. The Obama administration said the waiver also applied to greenhouse gas emissions.

The Trump administration wants to challenge California’s authority to set its own tailpipe standards to combat emissions that warm the planet. It last week proposed revoking the waiver as part of a broader package that seeks to freeze vehicle fuel efficiency targets at model year 2020 levels through 2025. The administration is also taking comment on whether California’s standards create an end run around the federal statute that lets the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration set fuel economy standards.

EPA air chief Bill Wehrum said on a press call last week that greenhouse gas emissions operate differently from traditional pollutants that cause smog. The former are experienced globally, he said, while the latter are a more local phenomenon. Environmental and public health advocates have pushed back on this distinction within the context of the Clean Air Act.

CARB said maintaining the fuel efficiency levels agreed to during the Obama administration was necessary to ensure the state can protect public health and comply with statutory goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. An executive order signed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) set an 80 percent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050.

Automakers have tried to persuade the Trump administration and California to agree on a compromise solution to maintain one standard. The process of a lengthy court battle between the state and federal government has created uncertainty for vehicle companies.