Under the Clean Air Act of 1970, the EPA had granted California a waiver to set emissions standards harsher than federal limits to combat its smog problems.
As the most populous state and with the fifth largest economy in the world, California was able to influence automakers and set the pace for the rest of the country. Seventeen other states and the District of Columbia have adopted California’s rules and made them de facto national standards. Twelve other states are following California’s requirement to only sell zero-emission vehicles after 2035.
In 2009, President Barack Obama established federal emissions standards based on the California rule. Last year, the Biden administration initiated the court case to restore California’s waiver, which is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.
“It’s a historic role that California has played since 1970, a role that was only interrupted during the Trump administration,” said Richard Revesz, a professor of environmental law at New York University. “This is an extremely important policy, but it is also a return to the traditional way of understanding the relationship between the federal government and California regarding vehicle pollution. It is a moment of returning to normality.”
Trump’s allies see it differently, saying a state should not be allowed to set national standards.
“We think what California is doing is beyond the scope of the law, and we should not be making federal law based on what California is telling its citizens to do,” said Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research. an organization that supports the use of fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, the EPA is preparing tougher regulations on heavy-duty truck emissions to reduce emissions of nitrogen dioxide, which has been linked to lung cancer, heart disease and premature death. California’s truck rule, enacted late last year, requires manufacturers to produce progressively cleaner trucks between 2024 and 2031.