California’s backbone might either bend or stand resolute. It all depends on their next moves in response to the Trump administration’s announcement to cut back on fuel-efficiency regulations for cars and light trucks.
Why California is Exempt:
California has roots in the fight against climate change. The Clean Air Act empowers the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate air pollution from motor vehicles. To maintain neutrality, the law disallows states from regulating car emissions.
But when it came to California, the lines were blurred. This is because when the Clean Air Act passed, California was already developing laws and regulations to address their air pollution issues. Congress granted California the right to maintain their own standards as long as they were as stringent as federal standards to protect public health and welfare.
California has received this perceived leniency for quite some time given their commitments to reduce emissions since the 1960s. They were already setting limits on tailpipe emissions when Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970.
Debates over California’s Authority and Economic Validity:
California’s unique position as a leader in climate change (12 states and the District of Columbia have adopted their standards) — one that was the epicentre of Barack Obama’s climate change policies – may be fleeting. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is looking to tone down limitations in response to what the Trump administration and automakers are vying against.
Automakers contend that consumers will have to spend too much for fuel-saving innovations if revisions to the agreement are not made.
The potential rebuke comes from Environmentalists who cite GM’s former claim in 1973. At that time, GM had claimed that it would go bankrupt if California demanded the installation of catalytic converters.
There is more at stake than it seems. Sure, environmental considerations are huge, but there is a tonality that rests on a decision that will reverberate for decades to come. Automakers have treated California’s emission rules as a de facto standard with which they must operate.
In 2012, California and the EPA agreed to a standard of 50 miles per gallon by 2025. This standard does not apply to every vehicle, but to the average level of efficiency of an automaker’s entire fleet.
This didn’t go over too well with automaker standards who argue that consumers prefer standard vehicles like SUVs rather than electric and hybrid cars. The EPA further argues that consumers will be forced to abandon gas-guzzlers in favour of electric cars, leading to high emissions.
The battle ahead will likely be a long one. California’s attorney general promised to sue to preserve the state’s right to set its own standards. To change the standards, the EPA has to produce a new rule to replace the current one. Meanwhile, California has hinted that they are working to increase their zero-emissions targets. Regardless of whether the federal government goes lenient on its own.