Biden to let California keep setting emissions standards, reversing Trump ban


California state capitol

A win for the Golden State.

Bloomberg/Getty Images

California has notched a win in its ongoing fight with the federal government to regain the right to set state-level emissions standards and zero-emission vehicle mandates. On Thursday, the US Department of Transportation made the first step to withdraw the regulation from its rulebook. The public now has a period to comment on the proposed withdrawal before the department makes a final ruling. With the DOT’s backing, it’s highly likely California will regain its authority.

The rule in question ended the state’s right to set emissions standards, which over a dozen other states follow, in 2019. Further, it halted California’s ability to mandate that automakers sell a certain number of zero-emissions cars within state borders. It’s this part that automakers grew to hate, leading to a rise in what many deemed “compliance cars,” like the Fiat 500e. The Trump administration argued ending the state’s abilities streamlined regulations for automakers — notably, General Motors, Toyota and Stellantis (née Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) sided with the previous administration. Each automaker has since dropped its support and sided with California.

Reversing the regulations would be “an important step towards protecting public health and combating climate change,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat who urged the Biden administration to reverse the Trump-era policy, said in a statement, “California is a national leader in the fight against climate change and eliminating toxic pollution from our transportation sector because we have seen how polluted air endangers our communities. Transportation is responsible for half of our state’s air pollution, and many suffer as a result. Children are more likely to develop respiratory illnesses and struggle in school when they breathe smoggy air.”

The senator added, “I continue to urge President Biden to take national action on clean car standards. California has provided a model for the country, working with auto manufacturers to make ambitious targets possible. By 2035, every new car or passenger truck sold in the state will be zero-emission.” The White House has not committed to any cutoff date to end the sale of new vehicles powered by fossil fuels, despite a handful of states instituting their own deadlines. California was the first in 2020 to make its own declaration.

The Biden administration will present updated federal emissions and fuel economy regulations later this year for automakers, which will erase the Trump administration’s regulations presented one year ago. Some automakers, including Ford, have already urged the administration to use a California compromise deal to serve as framework for the new federal regulations.


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