In 2019, we followed the terrible situation between then-President Donald Trump and the state of California. For decades, since the Clean Air Act was passed, the EPA has allowed California and other states to have stricter emission standards than federal rules. But, for various reasons, Trump wanted to take away that power from California and set one set of low standards in all 50 states (and territories, counties, etc.). With the end of the Trump administration, that challenge is over and the renunciation of clean air has been returned to California, but some states are disputing that in court.
Before we get to how Ford got involved in this latest case, let’s take a look at the background.
Why California can set its own rules
To understand this situation, you need to go back to the Clean Air Act of 1970. In that law, the idea was for the federal government to regulate emissions in all 50 states, and the law gave EPA the criteria it would use to set clean air rules.
It sounds simple, but at the time, California was already using government to regulate emissions. In order to respect the rights of the state and enable California to continue doing what it did, they added an exception to the law. California may request an exemption from the EPA, and the EPA must grant an exemption unless the following is true:
- was arbitrary and capricious in its finding that its standards were, on the whole, at least as protected by public health and welfare as applicable federal standards.
- they do not need such standards to meet convincing and extraordinary conditions
- such standards and accompanying enforcement procedures are not in accordance with Article 202 (a) of the Clean Air Act.
The state’s latest exemptions were granted under the Obama administration, but only after the Bush administration rejected a similar request. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the state has exemptions and those exemptions were in force in 2019. years. Although the Act gives EPA the power to review requests and approve or reject requests, the Clean Air Act does not give the authority to review previously approved waivers or to revoke these existing waivers.
Trump action 2019
Despite not having the authority to do so, Trump’s EPA leadership thought it had a hole they could use to undo California renunciations. To justify the recall, they pointed out in their responses to the action lawsuit that the EPA had denied the exemption in the past and then granted it after a second request. So, they claim that this ability to deny them, and then approve them later, gives them the power to reconsider previous grants and cancel them.
So they withdrew the California waiver and tried to merge the state with all the other states under weak clean air rules. The law did not give Trump the authority to completely repeal the rules of clean air, so he drafted the weakest rules he could and tried to force everyone to follow those rules instead of stricter ones.
“Two courts have already upheld California show standards, rejecting an argument the Trump administration is reviving to justify its misguided preemptive rule. However, the administration insists on attacking the authority of California and other states in order to tackle air pollution and protect public health, “said then California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “The Oval Office is really not a place for on-the-job training. President Trump should have at least read the instructions for use he inherited when he took office, especially the chapter on respect for the rule of law. Mr. President, see you in court. “
There was a lawsuit because of that, and several car manufacturers sided with California in that lawsuit. Ford was one of the few to stand by California at the time and says they were the only major carmaker to do so.
In the end, the lawsuit eventually disappeared not because one side or the other won, but because Trump was eventually kicked out of the White House before he wanted to (and we all know what a dramatic episode it was). Right at the beginning of the Biden administration, the action to withdraw the California renunciation of clean air was dropped, and the lawsuit was withdrawn because it was pointless.
A problem that simply will not go away
Technically, Biden didn’t just press Ctrl + Z on what Trump did. Because California returned their waiver, it gave conservative attorneys the opportunity to sue.
Their argument? That a law that gives California powers that no other state has is unconstitutional. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and West Virginia are the states that filed the lawsuit last month. They further argue that when a large and influential state like California sets its own standards, it drags the entire automotive industry to do things the way California does and deprives them of the ability to regulate car manufacturers in their states.
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia and the cities of Los Angeles and New York, all filed a motion to allow California to retain its waiver. They claim that the Clean Air Act exists and has allowed California to set a second set of rules for more than half a century, and that it is fair to all states because it balances things out.
In reality, these states take sides according to which party is in power in that state, so this is another struggle between Democrats and Republicans (as usual) over the environment.
Instead of telling you what Ford thinks, I’ll just give you some quotes they gave us in their press release:
“Ford is fighting climate change. We support the recent EPA exemption decision to enable California and other states to protect human health and combat climate change by establishing and enforcing air pollution standards and emission-free vehicle requirements. This is the right thing for people and the planet – but it is also key to the future success of the automotive industry. This brings us closer to the future of zero-emission transport and creates regulatory stability and a level playing field for the entire industry. ” – Steven Croley, Chief Policy Officer and Chief Adviser
“Ford is proud to be the only American carmaker to side with more aggressive emissions standards in 2019, and we are the only ones doing so today. By joining this action, we are joining a diverse coalition of states and communities already feeling the effects of climate change to advocate for the health, economic and mobility benefits that electric vehicles can provide. ” – Bob Holycross, Chief Engineer for Sustainability, Environment and Security
Republicans may be the last to laugh
Currently, Republican Party elections for the Supreme Court are taking place. I would explain why, but in order to do so, I would have to write another long article. But you probably already know that story. The timing of this lawsuit and the favorable position they find themselves in could lead to California’s renunciations going the way of Roe v. Wade. That would be another bad outcome for the environment.
Or will they?
On the other hand, I would argue that clean vehicle technology is now in a position to be too strong to stop with poor standards. Just because states set a minimum standard for clean vehicles doesn’t mean buyers have to want dirty (and expensive to drive) vehicles, or that carmakers have to make inefficient vehicles. Even if the Republican states take this before the Republican Supreme Court and win, it is quite possible that industry and the public will just continue to clean the air without them.
That is why it is important that we do not rely on laws and courts in everything. We have to fight this battle not only there, but for hearts and minds. If enough people want clean vehicles with current torque that run on American fuel, no politician will stop them.
Appreciate the originality of CleanTechnice? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica member, support, technician or ambassador – or patron at Patreon.