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US EPA, DOT warn California over fuel economy deal with carmakers

6 September 2019

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have sent a letter to Mary Nichols, the chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), warning her that the recent California agreement with four major automakers to reduce GHG emissions from cars “appears to be inconsistent with Federal law”.

The two agencies argue that under the Clean Air Act and the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), only the federal government—and not California or other states—has the authority to regulate fuel economy and GHG emissions from motor vehicles:

“Congress has squarely vested the authority to set fuel economy standards for new motor vehicles, and nationwide standards for GHG vehicle emissions, with the Federal government, not with California or any other State. Section 209 of the Clean Air Act prohibits California and other States from adopting or attempting to enforce their own emissions standards. And the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) expressly preempts States from setting fuel economy standards for motor vehicles or taking any other action ‘related to’ the regulation of fuel economy.”

The letter threatens legal consequences if California does not abandon the agreement, but is not specific as to what the federal agencies might actually do:

“Given the importance Congress placed on the authority of DOT and EPA for motor vehicle fuel economy and nationwide vehicle emissions standards under Federal law, we urge you to act immediately to disassociate CARB from the commitments made by the four automakers. Those commitments may result in legal consequences given the limits placed in Federal law on California's authority.”

Under the deal that was struck in July 2019 between CARB and Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW, the carmakers agreed to a framework of GHG emission reductions through 2026—essentially ignoring the efforts of the federal government to freeze the fuel economy and GHG emissions from light-duty vehicles at their 2020 levels. The agreed framework represents a modest relaxation of the current regulation—the current MY 2025 standard would be extended until 2026 and the interim MY 2022-2025 targets would be smoothed out. As a result, the original year-over-year 4.7% GHG reduction over four years would change to 3.7% over five years.

CARB has been trying to persuade other carmakers to join the agreement, while the federal government has been trying to prevent that.

Source: US EPA