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EPA announces plans to roll back Obama-era automobile emissions standards

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On April 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to revise automobile emissions standards previously finalized under the Obama Administration, which requires automakers to reduce emissions by 2025. The EPA’s decision would apply specifically to future standards covering model years 2022-2025.

Additionally, EPA stated it will revisit the status of Clean Air Act waivers that allow states to impose stricter requirements for vehicle emissions than federal standards, citing the need for a more uniform national standard. Elimination or alteration of these waivers would impact California, which operates under a waiver, as well as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont, Oregon, Washington and Pennsylvania, all of which adopted California’s standards.

As part of the 2012 rulemaking establishing the model year 2017-2025 light-duty vehicle greenhouse gas standards, EPA made a regulatory commitment to conduct a Midterm Evaluation (MTE) of the standards for model years 2022-2025. In 2017, the Obama Administration finalized this MTE for model years 2022-2025, requiring new vehicles in the U.S. automotive fleet to average 50 mpg by 2025. In model year 2017, vehicles in the U.S. averaged 31.8 miles per gallon.

Industry groups and opponents of the rule argued the 50 mpg standards set by the Obama Administration are unrealistic given demand for vehicles like trucks and SUVs, which typically are less fuel efficient than smaller cars. Supporters of the tighter standards, meanwhile, have said rolling back the Obama Administration standards would pose public health risks and decrease momentum towards the production of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Additionally, they argue any efforts to restrict or rescind state waivers would constitute a pre-emption of state and local authority. In fact, environmental groups and the State of California have already threatened to sue EPA over the agency’s attempt to soften the Obama-era rule.

Despite the announcement on April 2, there is still a lengthy process preceding any changes to the vehicle emissions standards. EPA stated the agency will work with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to re-draft emissions and fuel economy standards. While the exact timeline for any official action is uncertain, a final rule is required to be issued by April 1, 2020.

Under the Clean Air Act, states and counties serve as co-regulators with the federal government and play a key role in providing for the health and well-being of our residents, including a responsibility to ensure the cleanliness of our air and water resources. NACo policy calls on the federal government to set stricter standards to help reduce motor vehicle emissions nationwide and supports programs to enhance transportation alternatives, including low-pollutant emission vehicles. NACo will continue monitoring the implementation of this rule and other federal policies regarding fuel efficiency standards to ensure the needs and interests of counties are reflected in any final measure.

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