President Joe Biden and the Department of Transportation announced on Thursday that they would be ending the legal battle with California over the state’s vehicle emissions standards, which are more stringent than federal standards.
The legal battle over California and other states having their own auto emissions standards dates back to 2019. Then-president Donald Trump had, after several years of trying to cajole California to follow federal standards, revoked the rule that year through the EPA, attempting to make uniform emissions standards across all states. California, along with 22 other states and the District of Columbia, immediately sued the federal government in return. When a judge refused the Trump administrations efforts to throw the case out, lines quickly formed over the lawsuit.
Toyota, GM, Fiat Chrysler, and other quickly sided with the federal government over the uniform standards due to concerns that it could lead to making different cars for different parts of the country. Others, such as Ford, Honda, and Volkswagen, came into private agreements with the state and backed the differing standards model.
For most of 2020, the lawsuit was held in limbo, with neither the state nor the EPA budging on the issue, with both sides waiting out until November to see if Trump or Biden would win the 2020 election. Trump vowed to continue fighting for the federal uniform emissions standard, while Biden supported the state exemption to allow them to have different standards.
Following Biden’s victory, car manufacturers quickly abandoned backing the federal position, with all companies eventually joining California’s side by the time of the inauguration in January. For several months, the case over the emissions standards had all but officially ended, with Biden and the DOT waiting until the right time to fully end it.
That day came Thursday, Earth Day, with the DOT saying that the lawsuit over the emissions standards could officially end as soon as Friday, with the EPA due to add back the waiver over allowing states to have their own emissions standards.
“The transportation sector is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases in our economy, which means it can and must be a big part of the climate solution,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in a statement on Thursday. “This proposed rule would be an important step towards protecting public health and combating climate change.”
The end of a nearly 2-year long legal battle
The return of state standards, as well as California’s victory over the federal government, was celebrated by many California lawmakers on Thursday.
“Now that this unnecessary lawsuit is over, I look forward to the Biden administration working in concert with California to set new standards that combat climate change, protect public health and save consumers money,” stated Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Thursday.
In a a following tweet, she added that “The Trump administration should never have challenged California’s legal authority to set our own vehicle emission standards. The Clean Air Act clearly gives us the right to protect California’s air and I want to thank the Biden administration for ending this challenge.”
The Trump administration should never have challenged California’s legal authority to set our own vehicle emission standards. The Clean Air Act clearly gives us the right to protect California’s air and I want to thank the Biden administration for ending this challenge.
— Senator Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) April 22, 2021
Auto industry experts noted that, with the exemption, other states will likely follow California’s lead for their own emissions standards.
“California led the pack again,” said Michigan-based auto industry analyst Kevin Pullman to the Globe on Thursday. “The DOT wanted to make an annual 1.5% increase in fuel efficiency each year, but California and other states wanted 5%, to help reduce emissions.
“What we’ll get from this is more hybrid and electric cars. The US is behind China and Europe right now in adoption and production, so having the emissions argument out of the way, as well as higher standards, is going to encourage even more electric and hybrid vehicles to go on the road.
“We expected Biden to do this some year at some point, so now we can move on finally.”
The DOT is expected to completely withdraw the case in the coming days.