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California Wins Emissions Fight

All automakers have dropped support for a lawsuit that threatened California’s long-held legal ability to set its own emissions rules.

The lawsuit was unlikely to continue, given the new Administration’s flurry of action on environmental issues in the early days of Joe Biden’s presidency. Earlier this week the Department of Justice asked courts to put the litigation on hold while the Biden administration “reconsiders the policy decisions of a prior administration.”

A day later, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation dropped out of the lawsuit in what they claim is “a gesture of good faith and to find a constructive path forward.” The Alliance for Automotive Innovation was formed last year with a merger of Global Automakers, the industry association that originally joined the last administration’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in the fight against California. Yes, it's deeply counter-intuitive and very 'Trump' for the EPA to fight to allow extra pollution!

Since the 1960s, California has held a “waiver” for the US Clean Air Act, allowing the state to set its own vehicle emissions rules as long as those rules meet or exceed federal standards. Other states can follow California’s rules if they so choose, and about a dozen states do at any given time.

Those rules typically exceed federal standards, making things difficult for automakers as they had to follow different rules in different states. But under President Barack Obama, those rules were finally harmonized across the country as automakers, the EPA, and California all agreed for the first time on a plan for higher fuel economy standards nationwide. This plan was put into effect, and automakers were on track to exceed guidelines and were doing so at lower-than-projected costs.

But automakers and Republicans had other plans, lobbying for lower standards. California said they were sticking with the old rules, but the waiver was eventually revoked by the EPA in 2019, which set up an immediate legal fight.

State governments, environmental groups and industry associations quickly joined the battle, with car manufacturers lining up arguing for dirtier, more deadly air.

But the EPA's move, even with the power of the federal government behind it, seemed doomed from the start. And happily it was! With Biden's arrival, the car companies have now abandoned the fight.



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