Biden to reinstate Calif. authority to set tougher emissions rules, report says

The Biden administration is expected “within days” to reinstate California’s authority to restrict tailpipe emissions and set zero-emission vehicle mandates, according to a Bloomberg report citing two unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

The action would be twofold, the report says, with an announcement by the EPA to restore a waiver it had previously provided to California, allowing the state to limit greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle tailpipes and set ZEV mandates. NHTSA also would propose a rule affirming that its authority to set fuel economy standards does not block California from setting its own regulations.

Dan Becker, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Safe Climate Transport Campaign, confirmed that there will be a two-part process that the administration will roll out in the next few days.

“By Friday, NHTSA … will revoke its threat that the Clean Air Act should be preempted by the 1975 CAFE or EPCA [Energy Policy and Conservation Act] law,” he told Automotive News. “And then on Monday or Tuesday, EPA will restore the waiver that California received during the Obama-Biden administration, so that it’s clean-air protections can be tougher than the federal government’s.”

Becker said there is likely to be a 30- or 60-day comment period on the restoration of the waiver.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news Wednesday.

An EPA spokesman said the agency did not have comment at this time. The Department of Transportation, NHTSA and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment by Automotive News.

The update on California’s ability to set rules tougher than the national standard comes after President Joe Biden in January ordered the Transportation Department and the EPA to reconsider by April the Trump administration’s 2019 decision to revoke the state’s authority.

The president’s executive order also directs a review of fuel-efficiency standards for light vehicles. New limits are expected to be announced by the end of July.

In a 2019 lawsuit, California and 23 other states and environmental groups challenged the Trump administration’s decision that federal law prevents California from setting its own rules.

A group of automakers — including General Motors, Stellantis, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Toyota — and the National Automobile Dealers Association intervened in the lawsuit, with the goal of supporting one national fuel economy and greenhouse gas program.

Last November, GM withdrew its support of the Trump administration in the suit. NADA and the remaining automakers withdrew in February.

During his confirmation hearing, EPA chief Michael Regan told U.S. senators he would work to ensure states can set their own standards.

“I think that the California waiver exists for a reason,” he said. “I think there’s a process that we should follow. If those states follow those processes and want to be champions in this arena, then they can go forth and conquer, and the rest of the country can learn from these first-mover opportunities that they’re taking advantage of.”

Biden is hosting a virtual climate summit with world leaders, including China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, through Friday. The administration on Thursday said it has committed the U.S. to achieving a 50 to 52 percent drop in emissions below 2005 levels by 2030 — an effort that supports the president’s goals of achieving a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

The emissions target is supported by GM and Ford Motor Co. as well as other major corporations.

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