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US EPA withdraws CAA preemption waiver for California GHG and ZEV programs

19 September 2019

The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final action entitled the “One National Program Rule,” which would enable the federal government to provide nationwide uniform fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards for automobiles and light duty trucks and prevent California from adopting and enforcing its own GHG emission regulations. This action finalizes parts of the proposed SAFE Vehicles Rule that would freeze federal fuel economy and GHG emission standards at their 2020 levels.

The One National Program Rule states that federal law preempts state and local tailpipe GHG emissions standards as well as zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates. Specifically, in this action, NHTSA is affirming that its statutory authority to set nationally applicable fuel economy standards under the express preemption provisions of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act dictates that such state and local programs are preempted. For its part, “the EPA is withdrawing the Clean Air Act preemption waiver it granted to the State of California in January 2013 as it relates to California’s GHG and ZEV programs”. California’s ability to enforce its Low Emission Vehicle program and other emission standards to address smog-forming pollutant emissions is not affected.

With this action, there will be only one set of national fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles, the EPA said. The EPA and NHTSA continue to work together to finalize the remaining portions of the SAFE Vehicles Rule, to address proposed revisions to the federal fuel economy and GHG vehicle emissions standards.

In the One National Program Rule, NHTSA and EPA have made the following determinations:

Pursuant to Congress’s mandate in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, only the federal government may set fuel economy standards, and state and local governments may not establish their own separate fuel economy standards. This includes state laws that substantially affect fuel economy standards (such as tailpipe GHG emissions standards and ZEV mandates).

In addition, EPA is withdrawing the 2013 Clean Air Act waiver that authorized California to pursue its own tailpipe greenhouse gas emission standard (fuel economy standard) and ZEV mandate. As a result, these two programs are also prohibited by the Clean Air Act.

Moving forward, California must continue to enforce its programs to address smog and other forms of traditional air pollution caused by motor vehicles. The state must redouble its efforts to address the worst air quality in the United States and finally achieve compliance with EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards, where for decades it has failed to address serious, severe, and extreme non-compliance status in several areas within the state.

The legal basis for withdrawing the California Waiver is claimed to be that under CAA section 209(b)(1)(B), which covers compelling and extraordinary conditions. EPA finds that California does not need its GHG and ZEV standards to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions because:

California has opposed the proposed relaxation of federal GHG emission standards via the SAFE Vehicles Rule, and reached an agreement with a group of automakers to maintain a more stringent GHG and fuel economy program in California—a move that was deemed inconsistent with federal law by the EPA.

Source: US EPA