California Sticks with Strict Emissions Rules

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The Trump administration is reconsidering tough emissions standards recently accepted by the Environmental Protection Agency, but California isn’t waiting to see what happens under the new president. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) finalized its rules through the 2025 model year choosing to make the original EPA guidelines the law throughout the state.

Those guidelines set corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) numbers at 54.5 mpg for the 2025 model year. Current overall fuel economy sits at only 25.1 mpg making the new standards quite a leap. To hit that target, automakers need to make steady gains every year, but that’s not what’s happening.

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According to a study from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the number is stuck. It’s been sitting at 25.1 since 2014 despite increases in the years prior.

The EPA was reviewing the guidelines and had until April 2018 to finalize their recommendations. It chose to stick with the original 54.5 mpg number and made it official shortly before Obama left office. Now that Obama is out and Trump is in, the EPA is reviewing the standards yet again with the possibility they’ll revise the numbers downward.

This would make automakers happy. President Trump met with industry executives and Ford CEO Mark Fields told Trump the 54.4 mpg number would cost as many as one million jobs. That’s strong incentive to bring it down.

The challenge comes partly from how efficient companies like Ford can make its cars, and partly from what the public chooses to buy. Gas is cheap and financing is easy. This helps crossovers and big SUVS find their way into American driveways. Automakers need to strike a balance between building what people want to buy and adhering to EPA standards.

The state of California doesn’t have to wait on Trump or the EPA because it has a waiver allowing it to set its own emissions standards. The rest of the states can then choose to follow either EPA or CARB standards on their own. Thirteen states – Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington – and the District of Columbia currently follow California’s regulations.

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This opens the doors to legal challenges on all fronts. CARB operates only on that EPA waiver. Revoking the waiver would force California to abide by EPA standards rather than its own set of rules. Lawyers haven’t gotten into the fray just yet, but if the EPA does lower its original recommendations, changes are good California will put up a fight.

Image: Jeff Turner