From Inside EPA
Updated March 3, 2017
Trump EPA Poised To Reverse Course On Obama Vehicle GHG Decision (Updated)
California officials Jan. 18 proposed to retain the state’s current GHG tailpipe standards for MY 2022-2025 vehicles — in line with existing national rules and EPA’s recent final mid-term review determination — even if the Trump administration seeks to soften the rules.
“These findings on the benefits to California are based on an analysis assuming the existing national GHG standards,” the state’s proposed determination says. “If the stringency of the national GHG standards were substantially changed, despite the Final Determination by U.S. EPA based on a comprehensive record demonstrating that the existing standards should be maintained, these findings would likely be different,” the board warned.
California’s Air Resources Board is still scheduled to consider the state’s draft determination at a March 23 meeting. “That’s the plan at this point,” a board spokesman says.
In addition, a dispute over the timing of the mid-term review could be the first battle in a broader war between EPA and California over vehicle rules. During his confirmation, Pruitt also said he intends to review the Golden State’s waiver from federal preemption to issue state vehicle standards that are stronger than what EPA requires, as well as possible subsequent California requests for new waivers to pursue GHG vehicle programs.
That prospect has prompted substantial concern from California regulators. And both environmentalists and a former EPA official have said that any move to rescind the waiver would be unprecedented.
The Obama administration’s determination, proposed just after the election and finalized Jan. 13 just before Trump took office, locked in current standard levels and was seen largely as an effort by the Obama administration to protect the vehicle rules from any attempts to weaken them.
But the speed of the action — as well as the administration’s decision to complete the action on a much earlier timeline than what had originally been proposed — drew significant criticism from the auto industry and Republican opponents of EPA’s climate rules.
The automaker letter, from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, requested the Trump EPA resume the mid-term review of the MY 2022-2025 GHG standards, which had been slated to end in mid-2018.
And while the letter did not have a specific request regarding the rule’s stringency, automakers also floated a range of arguments that could eventually serve to weaken the standards.
Automakers in their letter said it would be relatively simple for Pruitt to withdraw the determination, arguing that the action is a rule and thus making the decision subject to a regulatory freeze now in place for last-minute Obama administration rules. The Obama EPA argued the final determination was an adjudication and therefore not subject to the freeze, though the Trump administration could still reconsider an “adjudicatory” determination.
And the auto alliance also noted that the Trump EPA could quickly reverse the determination “on its own initiative,” whether or not EPA under Pruitt continues to argue that its determination is not a formal rule.
“Even if EPA continues to endorse the view that the Final Determination is an adjudication, however, EPA has brought inherent power to reconsider its decision ‘within the period for taking an appeal,’” the alliance claimed, citing prior court precedents.
Several environmental groups — including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club and others — in a March 3 letter to Pruitt strongly defended the Obama EPA’s final determination and urged the administrator to reject automakers’ requests to withdraw the decision and “unnecessarily re-open” EPA’s midterm review.
While environmentalists may not be able to stop Pruitt from taking administrative action to reopen the review or delay implementation of the determination, they argued that the merits of the Obama EPA’s determination was strongly supported by “an extremely robust” administrative record and warned that any rollback of the final determination would be met with litigation.
“The record is clear: this policy reduces pollution, saves consumers money, spurs the development of cleaner technologies, and reduces the risks of climate change. Any decision that runs contrary to this extensive, well-documented record would be arbitrary and unlawful,” they said. — Abby Smith (firstname.lastname@example.org) & Doug Obey (email@example.com)
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect environmentalists’ letter.