Last week, a group of Republican attorneys general decided to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its decision to reinstate the waiver allowing California to set its own limits on vehicle exhaust and mandates zero-emission vehicles that would exceed federal standards.
The agency approved the waiver after it was eliminated as part of the Trump administration’s fuel cut on the grounds that it would create a schism within the industry by forcing automakers to produce vehicles for the California market to the detriment of products that could be appreciated in other regions of the country. However, Joe Biden’s EPA sees things differently and has aligned itself with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to give the state more leeway to govern itself when it comes to emissions controls.
In fact, Biden issued an executive order in January 2021 that ordered the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the EPA to reconsider the Trump administration’s 2019 decision to revoke California’s ability to self-regulate.
The AG coalition is reportedly led by Dave Yost of Ohio and claims in court that the Clean Air Act waiver violates the Constitution’s doctrine of equal sovereignty. Yost was joined by officials from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, ‘Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and West Virginia who joined the federal lawsuit.
Though that’s all fair considering the shows have become a never-ending saga of partisan bickering, big state (usually California) lobbying, and constant US taxpayer-funded lawsuits. When the Trump administration tried to negotiate the revised fuel economy standards, relevant hearings showed officials and lawmakers throwing tantrums and sometimes refusing to sit near opposition members. Although some compromises were made, continuing to allow California to set its own rules was not one of them. Trump’s EPA even went so far as to cite the Golden State as having the worst air quality in the union, noting an inability to “perform its most basic tasks under the Clean Air Act.”
Meanwhile, California was encouraging other Democratic-controlled states and a subset of multinational automakers to pledge to meet its emissions laws, rather than federally issued standards. Several of these states later joined forces to sue the Trump administration in 2020 on the grounds that all of the fuel cuts were illegal and based on misinformation. Although that ultimately didn’t matter, since the Biden administration immediately pledged to dissolve any changes made under the former White House. This included reinstating California’s waiver, originally issued under the Obama administration in 2013, and reforming the leadership of the EPA and DOT.
The shoe is now on the other foot, and Republicans are trying to sue the EPA on the grounds that California was given special treatment. IHS Markit reported that the lawsuit was filed May 13 in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The AGs say the waiver effectively violates the Constitution, which West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey says creates a federalist framework in which all states are equal and none are more equal than the others.
“The Trump administration has understood this and has banned California from setting its own oppressive standards,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said. “The Biden administration has since repealed the Trump order and given California the green light to establish ‘green’ manufacturing standards, which in effect are crushing the average American who is already facing astronomical prices at the pump. because of the failed policies of the Biden administration. ”
This problem is certainly bigger than cars. Republicans have sued the EPA over a few points about how it wants to regulate emissions from manufacturing and energy generation. The Supreme Court is even considering where the agency’s authority over coal-fired power plants should end. But the general trend is that emissions regulations are getting stricter and stricter, no matter who occupies the White House or what letter your governor’s name adds. Leaders in seventeen states have opted to follow California’s plan – including banning internal combustion vehicles by 2035 – and the others are subject to tougher tailpipe regulations under Biden’s EPA.
This one has no easy answer. Automakers are widely divided on the issue, and there is a clear conflict between what constitutes states’ rights and allowing one region’s influence to override others. Frankly, California’s authoritarian environmental policies don’t seem to have been so realistic or successful. It may be unwise to extend them to the rest of the nation, undoubtedly changing the type of vehicles that will be produced. But one should probably have serious reservations about limiting the ability of a local body to govern itself. It’s just a shame that this unproductive circus, run by hard-line and contentious supporters, is likely to determine the fate of the industry and perhaps the next vehicle you buy.
Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC catches and all things truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.