Federal Court Upholds Reinstatement of California’s Emission Standards Waiver

The waiver allows California to set stricter rules than those from the federal government, which 17 other states have chosen to adopt.


A federal appeals court on April 9 affirmed the 2022 reinstatement of the EPA’s Clean Air Act waiver allowing California to set stronger vehicle greenhouse gas emissions standards and zero-emission vehicle requirements than the federal government.

In doing so, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed a lawsuit filed by 17 Republican-led states and fuel industry trade groups challenging the waiver, claiming it harms their interests because it forces automakers to charge more for gas-powered vehicles. The court said the plaintiffs lacked standing.

The waiver allows California to set zero emission vehicle and greenhouse gas and other pollution emissions standards that are at least as or more stringent than EPA’s national standards. Seventeen Democrat-led states have chosen to adopt California’s standards.

Initially issued in 1970, the waiver was revoked in 2019 under former President Donald Trump and reinstated three years later by the Biden administration.

“Today the court sided with common sense and public health against the fossil fuel industry and Republican-led states,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement April 9. “This ruling reaffirms California’s longstanding right to address pollution from cars and trucks, work started by Gov. Ronald Reagan and codified by President Richard Nixon.

“The clean vehicle transition is already here -- it’s where the industry is going, the major automakers support our standards, and California is hitting our goals years ahead of schedule,” Newsom added. “We won’t stop fighting to protect our communities from pollution and the climate crisis.”
Environmental protection groups also lauded the court’s decision.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for cleaner air and cleaner cars not just in California, but across the nation,” said Joshua Berman, a senior attorney for the Sierra Club. “The D.C. Circuit has reaffirmed California’s critical role in protecting its residents from harmful vehicle emissions, thereby benefiting the many states that rely on adoption of California’s standards to achieve and maintain the Clean Air Act’s air quality mandates.”

In its decision, the appeals court noted automakers are already exceeding California’s zero-emission vehicles standards.

The California Air Resources Board showed “that ‘manufacturers are already selling more qualifying vehicles in California than the state’s standards require,’ suggesting that vacatur of the zero-emission vehicle mandate would not redress petitioners’ injuries,” the court said.

The court also acknowledged how climate change uniquely impacts California, as it contains seven of the 10 worst areas for ozone pollution and six of the 10 worst areas for small particulate matter in the U.S.

“It also faces ‘increasing risks from record-setting fires, heat waves, storm surges, sea-level rise, water supply shortages and extreme heat,’” the court said. “And these conditions are exacerbated by climate change.”

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