California Ready for Fight With EPA Over Fuel Economy Standards

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. Carolyn Kaster / AP Photo

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The EPA wants to relax Obama-era emissions limits California has a waiver to enforce and automakers think are achievable.

California is getting out ahead of the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to relax Obama-era fuel economy standards in the next few days.

Despite his states’ rights stance on clean air controls, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has made no secret his hope he can convince the California Air Resources Board to renegotiate Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards in April.

Upon learning the EPA intends to announce its conclusion carbon emissions limits for cars and SUVs sold between 2022 and 2025—limits established by the Obama administration—are unattainable, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra indicated he’s ready to go to court to preserve the state’s Clean Air Act waiver.

California holds the only such waiver in the U.S. and used it to set an aggressive CAFE goal of 50 miles per gallon by 2025. Thirteen states, accounting for nearly half of all vehicles sold when grouped with California, piggybacked onto the waiver, which could force the auto industry’s hand in adopting the stricter standards regardless of any EPA rollback.

That is, unless Pruitt attempts to repeal California’s waiver—an unprecedented move sure to trigger a legal battle with the Golden State.

Vehicle manufacturers have pushed for one national program, a call Pruitt echoed during a January congressional oversight hearing, but they don’t necessarily oppose California’s CO2 reductions—critical to meeting the Paris Agreement that President Trump withdrew the U.S. from in 2017.

“We support increasing clean car standards through 2025 and are not asking for a rollback. We want one set of standards nationally, along with additional flexibility to help us provide more affordable options for our customers,” wrote Ford Motor Company executives in a Tuesday blog on Medium. “We believe that working together with EPA, NHTSA and California, we can deliver on this standard.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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