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Support States' Rights to Implement Clean Car Standards

Under a provision of the federal Clean Air Act, states are permitted to adopt initiatives started by the state of California that go beyond federal vehicle pollution standards. The state clean car standards require about a 30 percent reduction in global warming emissions from new vehicles by 2016. To date, 14 states have adopted the clean car standards: California, Arizona, Connecticut, New Mexico, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Oregon, and Washington (Washington, DC has also adopted).  More states—like Florida, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota—are in the process of considering them.

However, on December 19, 2007, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen Johnson denied California (the first state to adopt clean car standards) the waiver needed to implement them, citing the 2007 Energy Bill’s fuel economy standards as rationale. While new federal standards to raise average fuel economy to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 are a significant step toward addressing U.S. energy security needs, they were not passed with any intent to address global warming pollution. Clean car standards do address global warming pollution. Two federal judges and the U.S. Supreme Court have upheld this position—deciding that fuel economy standards, meant to protect U.S. energy security, and global warming pollution standards, meant to protect the health and wellbeing of the U.S. public, are distinct standards. In denying the waiver, Administrator Johnson also rejected historical precedent, as no waiver of this kind had been rejected by the EPA since 1967, when California was granted the authority to establish regulations stronger than those made by the EPA.

On January 2, 2008, California and 18 other states (Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) filed a lawsuit to compel the EPA to grant the waiver. This includes four states that have yet to commit to the clean car standards (Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, and Minnesota). However, on January 26, 2009, President Obama reopened the door by instructing the EPA to reconsider the previous administration's denial of the waiver to implement the clean car standards.

Clean car standards are critical because they provide consumers with more vehicle choices by requiring automakers to offer zero and near-zero emission vehicles—such as cleaner gasoline, hybrid, and, eventually, fuel-cell and electric vehicles. However, limited supplies of “clean” vehicles like hybrids will be focused on states that have adopted the standards. Similarly, the cleaner diesels that many automakers are developing to meet the California standards may only be available in states that require them. Auto dealers in clean car states will not be harmed by the standards because dealers across state lines will not able to undercut the law and unfairly sell dirty cars in clean car states.

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