Eastern states back Calif. in car rule fight

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Air regulators in Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states are backing California in its fight with the Trump administration over clean car rules.

In a statement Thursday, the 12-state Ozone Transport Commission (OTC) said it supports California’s right to set more stringent fuel efficiency standards than the federal ones.

Under the Clean Air Act, California can obtain a waiver from EPA allowing it to set the more stringent mandates. Twelve states and the District of Columbia have signed on to the Golden States’ standards, representing about 40 percent of new vehicles sold in the country.

But the Trump administration is considering challenging California’s right to a waiver. A draft EPA plan obtained by E&E News argues that California lacks the authority to regulate fuel efficiency under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which gives that power solely to the Transportation Department (E&E News PM, April 27).

The majority of OTC’s members have chosen to apply California’s rules under California’s low-emission vehicle program (CALEV). Those members include Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The OTC statement argues that revoking California’s waiver would limit those members’ abilities to adopt CALEV standards and meet the Obama-era ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) of 70 parts per billion.

“EPA has indicated that the agency may reconsider some aspects of the California waiver, an action which could ultimately impact or limit states’ rights regarding implementation and enforcement of the CALEV standards,” the OTC statement says.

“The inability of OTC states to adopt the CALEV standards could cause increased emissions from mobile sources affecting the attainment and maintenance of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). Therefore, be it resolved that the states of the OTC strongly urge EPA to ensure that California’s right to a waiver” is preserved, the statement adds.

Miles Keogh, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA), said his organization was weighing the possibility of issuing a similar statement about California’s waiver.

NACAA has a broader reach than OTC, encompassing air pollution control agencies in 40 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and 116 metropolitan areas.

“Generally speaking, the California waiver is not a quirk of the Clean Air Act. It’s a pillar of the Clean Air Act,” Keogh said.

“As an association of clean air agencies, we stand at the top of a really slippery slope, and if this absolutely core pillar of the Clean Air Act is undone, it philosophically changes how we achieve clean air gains in the United States,” he said.

Attacking California’s ability to set stricter standards could lead to a split national market with two sets of requirements, presenting a headache for automakers.

EPA air chief Bill Wehrum told Congress last month he would prioritize finding a deal with California that avoided a patchwork of rules, although he wasn’t speaking for the agency as a whole.

EPA’s press shop didn’t respond to a request for comment in time for publication.