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California emissions

Traffic flows slowly along a Los Angeles freeway on July 14, 2014. (Photo: Luke Jones/Flickr/cc)

Green Groups Cheer as EPA Restores California's Power to Curb Vehicle Emissions

One advocate said that "the Biden administration is taking a critical step to protect public health and combat the climate crisis."

Brett Wilkins

Green groups on Wednesday hailed the Biden administration's reinstatement of California's authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own greenhouse gas emission standards and implement a zero-emission vehicle sales mandate.

"Today's reinstatement of the waiver is an important milestone in the fight to preserve critical environmental regulations undone by the Trump administration."

The Trump administration's 2019 revocation of California's authority to set its own standards sparked outrage—and a lawsuit—in the Golden State, which since the 1960s received over 100 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) waivers allowing it to enact and enforce more stringent emissions rules.

"Today we proudly reaffirm California's long-standing authority to lead in addressing pollution from cars and trucks," EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement. "Our partnership with states to confront the climate crisis has never been more important. With today's action, we reinstate an approach that for years has helped advance clean technologies and cut air pollution for people not just in California, but for the U.S. as a whole."

Abigail Dillen, president of the advocacy group Earthjustice, said that "by restoring California's authority to set stronger clean car standards, the Biden administration is taking a critical step to protect public health and combat the climate crisis."

The EPA also withdrew the SAFE-1 interpretation of the Clean Air Act, which barred other states from adopting the California greenhouse gas emission standards. States may now choose to adopt and enforce California's nation-leading standards instead of federal rules. According to Politico, 16 states plus the District of Columbia follow California's standards.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, thanked the Biden administration "for righting the reckless wrongs of the Trump administration and recognizing our decades-old authority to protect Californians and our planet."

"The restoration of our state's Clean Air Act waiver is a major victory for the environment, our economy, and the health of families across the country that comes at a pivotal moment underscoring the need to end our reliance on fossil fuels," he added. "California looks forward to partnering with the Biden administration to make a zero-emission future a reality for all Americans."

Michelle Robinson, director of the Clean Transportation Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement that "today is an important day for the future of transportation policy. EPA did the right thing by reinstating the waiver, without which California was prevented from enforcing higher greenhouse gas emissions standards and effectively promoting zero-emissions vehicles."

"The previous administration's agency action relied on a deeply flawed understanding of the law and thwarted the ability of states to take important steps toward limiting carbon emissions," she added. "Today's reinstatement of the waiver is an important milestone in the fight to preserve critical environmental regulations undone by the Trump administration."

Sierra Club president Ramón Cruz said that "reinstating California's Clean Air Act waiver to adopt standards stronger than federal standards for new cars and light-duty trucks is vital to California and has a positive ripple effect on states across the country, driving forward climate progress and delivering cleaner air for millions of Americans."

"We are grateful to the Biden administration for restoring this strong policy that will slash transportation emissions, the nation's largest source of climate-disrupting pollution and a significant source of air pollution," he added.

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