Proposal Could Revoke California’s Ability to Set Auto Emissions Rules

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The U.S. Transportation Department and Environmental Protection Agency are set to reveal a proposed regulation that will hold national emissions requirements at 2020 levels through 2026. That’s not good news for California.

Along with this proposal, the Trump administration will propose its own rule revoking California’s ability to set its own emissions rules and require zero emissions vehicles. California was originally granted a waiver by the EPA through the Clean Air Act.

Regulators estimate that freezing emissions standards at 2020 levels will increase overall U.S. fuel consumption by around 500,000 barrels of oil a day. That’s not good news for anyone no matter where you happen to live.

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There is a bright side to this proposed change. Although we’ll be using more oil every day, regulators also estimate that what they’re calling the Safer and Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicles rule will cut traffic deaths and make cars cheaper.

How does that work? Well, new cars are safer than old cars and come with more available advanced safety technologies. Holding emissions requirements at 2020 levels will reduce vehicle costs and make it easier for people to get into those new, safer cars. The proposal comes with an average cost savings per new vehicle of $1,850 by 2030.

The administration also estimates it could eliminate up to 1,000 highway deaths each year simply by getting more people into new cars. It also says the global climate impact would be negligible. Unsurprisingly, California and environmentalists disagree.

Right now these are all proposals and nothing is official, but the proposal is expected as soon as later this week. If adopted, it will reverse planned fuel efficiency standards adopted by the Obama administration with the average fleet fuel economy standard dropping from a projected level of 46.8 mpg by 2026 to 37 mpg.

That’s a big difference and it’s one the auto industry has been struggling to achieve in recent years. After steady gains in fuel economy, the numbers have tapered off rather than reflecting the increases of years past.

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If adopted, these rules could have a significant impact on efforts to boost EV sales in California. California Governor Jerry Brown upped the state’s targets for zero-emission vehicles from 1.5 million by 2025 to 5 million by 2030. Without the ability to regulate outside of what U.S. regulators require, hitting those numbers will be a challenge.

As the proposed regulations are introduced, expect California to fight hard to see that they are never adopted.