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EPA To Ease Back Emissions Standards

Gasoline prices are displayed at a Chevron station in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Oct. 30, 2017.
Associated Press
Gasoline prices are displayed at a Chevron station in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Oct. 30, 2017.
EPA To Ease Back Emissions Standards
EPA To Ease Back Emissions Standards GUEST: Eric Biber, director, environmental and energy law programs, UC Berkeley School of Law

>> California's ability to set its own vehicle emissions standard is now in the crosshairs of the Trump administration. The EPA is threatening to revoke the states decade old waiver allowing it to set stricter standards for vehicle emissions. The threat comes as Washington discards nationwide fuel economy rules and acted by the Obama administration. The threat towards California admission standards comes at the same time as a federal lawsuit over another state environmental law when it gets California the right to oversee the sale of federal lands in the state. Joining me is Eric, director of the energy in my programs at UC Berkeley school of Law. And Eric, welcome to the program. >> Thank you for having me on. >> Why does California have the power to set different fuel standards than the federal government? >> California has the ability to set different admission standards for automobiles in the states, because the state has had a very long history of a very challenging air-quality programs in California actually set up its own air quality regulatory program from automobiles before the federal government did. Back in the 1970s. >> Therefore, because California standards are usually stricter, does California basically set standards for the rest of the country? >> It's a little more complicated than that. California can set it standards more strictly within a certain framework that the federal law sets out, depending on the kinds of standards that California sets, other states may join in and California is already a very large part of the national market for cars and if you add an additional state such as Nyack New York or Massachusetts, you can get up to about a third of the market for the current states that adopt most of California standards. That may result in car manufacturers making two different kinds of cars for the different kinds of markets and particularly in the 70s and 80s and 90s, for a wide range of California standards and it's basically what automobile manufacturers did. The challenge now is with the standards that California has been issuing that relate in part to climate change as well as to conventional air pollutants. It may be different for those manufacturers and the results they may have to choose between producing an automobile that can be sold in all 50 states even though it is stricter than what the federal standards might require. In other states and producing automobile that can only be sold in about two thirds of the market for it >> Would it be easy for the federal government to revoke California's waiver to set its own standards? >> No. For one thing, to my recollection it has never been done by the federal government. So, it's unclear what do they have the power to do so under the law? And, if so, what findings, the federal government would have to make and surely, California would challenge such an effort in court, so that would be the question of the court to determine whether the EPA has the authority and what standards it would apply. >> Will happen to California's climate change goals if we lose that waiver? >> The waiver is a very significant part of California's efforts with gas emissions and transportation. It's roughly about 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the state today. Significantly more than the electric power sector where a lot of the state efforts have been focused up to this point in time. So, dealing with gas emissions in the state, it definitely requires dealing with transportation and California as everyone know is a large chunk coming from cars. >> There was another legal battle that started yesterday over California's public lands protection act. What does that law do? >> The state law basically requires people who purchase or get lands from the federal government, they have to basically get permission from the state government, indicating the state government had the opportunity to get what is called a right of force removal before they get it from the federal government. It basically means the state has the ability to match the sale price that was offered to the federal government for the land. And get the land it separate >> Now, the legislator itself said the law raised quote substantial constitutional questions. What are those questions? >> So the question is for one thing, under the federal Constitution Congress is given the power to dispose of and set regulations for federal lands throughout the United States. So, one question is whether that completely prohibits any state law in this area. And that may or may not be true depending on how the court looks at the question. And then secondly, there may be specific federal laws that authorize or require the sale or disposal federal public lands and those might come into specific conflict with the state law. And under the federal Constitution, there is a conflict between federal and state law, the federal law is paramount. >> What does California do with this protection act? What are they trying to stop, the federal government from doing with its land? >> So, there has been a concern that the Trump administration actively seek to sell off or give away large amounts to the federal public lands to the Western United States for the federal government owns over 40% of the land in California, that includes things like Yosemite national Park, death Valley, mount Shasta, other iconic landscapes throughout the state as well as a large areas of land that are important for habitat and public recreation so, there is a concern that the land would be sold or given away. And that would both cause environmental harm by eliminating habitat protections and also reduce public access to those lands for recreational purposes. So, the state law is an effort to ensure is that disposal does occur, the staff is the opportunity to step in, purchase the land at the same price the federal government is going to sell it off for, and retain the land as publicly protected and publicly accessible. >> Of the list of environmental fights, which keeps mounting between President Trump and California, does this one seem especially weak for California? >> I do not know if I would say it's especially weak, I think there are different legal questions that the statute raises, but I think there could be a number of situations in which the state laws actually upheld particularly when it not is existed with federal law. I also think the state legislator that wanted to make some changes to the law, that would make it much less likely, if it is struck down in court but >> I've been thinking speaking with Eric, director of energy law programs at UC Berkeley school of Law, and thank you so much. >> Thanks a lot.

EPA To Ease Back Emissions Standards
Environmental regulators announced on Monday they will ease emissions standards for cars and trucks, saying that a timeline put in place by President Barack Obama was not appropriate and set standards "too high."

Environmental regulators announced on Monday they will ease emissions standards for cars and trucks, saying that a timeline put in place by President Barack Obama was not appropriate and set standards "too high."

The Environmental Protection Agency said it completed a review that will affect vehicles for model years 2022-2025 but it did not provide details on new standards, which it said would be forthcoming. Current regulations from the EPA require the fleet of new vehicles to get 36 miles per gallon in real-world driving by 2025. That's about 10 mpg over the existing standard.

The agency said in its decision that the regulations set under the Obama administration "presents challenges for auto manufacturers due to feasibility and practicability, raises potential concerns related to automobile safety, and results in significant additional costs on consumers, especially low-income consumers."


The EPA, in partnership with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, will work to come up with new standards.

Automakers applauded Monday's decision, arguing that the current requirements would have cost the industry billions of dollars and raised vehicle prices due to the cost of developing the necessary technology.

"This was the right decision, and we support the Administration for pursuing a data-driven effort and a single national program as it works to finalize future standards," said Gloria Bergquist, vice president, communications and public affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, in a statement. "We appreciate that the Administration is working to find a way to both increase fuel economy standards and keep new vehicles affordable to more Americans."

Environmentalists, meanwhile, warned the proposed rollbacks will make U.S. cars more expensive to fill up.

"I certainly hope that EPA considers its mandate to protect the public health and protect the citizens of not just California but the rest of the United States. And does the right thing in keeping strong standards in place and committing to a cleaner future," said Irene Gutierrez of the Natural Resources Defense Council.


The announcement from EPA Director Scott Pruitt was not unexpected. The Trump administration had been telegraphing its desire to roll back the rules for some time. Any changes from the decision could take time to implement

"What they've said in their final determination announcement is that they plan to go forward with a rule making process, so we will have to see where that process goes," Gutierrez said.

"No one in America is eager to buy a car that gets worse gas mileage and spews more pollution from its tailpipe," said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. "Designing and building cleaner, more cost-efficient cars is what helped automakers bounce back from the depths of the recession and will be key to America's global competitiveness in the years ahead."

Any change is likely to set up a lengthy legal showdown with California, which has the power to set its own pollution and gas mileage standards and doesn't want them to change. About a dozen other states follow California's rules, and together they account for more than one-third of the vehicles sold in the U.S. Currently the federal and California standards are the same.

Some conservative groups are pressing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to get rid of the waiver. Pruitt said in a statement Monday that the agency will work with all states, including California, to finalize new standards.

"Cooperative federalism doesn't mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country," he said. "EPA will set a national standard for greenhouse gas emissions that allows auto manufacturers to make cars that people both want and can afford — while still expanding environmental and safety benefits of newer cars."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said his team is reviewing the EPA's determination and working closely with the California Air Resources Board.

"We're ready to file suit if needed to protect these critical standards and to fight the Administration's war on our environment," Becerra said in a statement. "California didn't become the sixth-largest economy in the world by spectating."

Sen. Edward J. Markey said the existing standards are "technically feasible and economically achievable," and added that he would use every legislative tool to block the moves.

"Slashing these standards would amount to turning the keys to our energy policy over to Big Oil and the auto industry," said the Massachusetts Democrat, who is a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee and chair of the Senate Climate Task Force.

According to Markey, the standards are projected to save nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil a day by 2030, around as much oil as is imported from OPEC countries every day.