Vehicle Emissions Standards

January 21, 2020
Carol F. McCabe, Esq. and Zachary J. Koslap, Esq.
MGKF Special Alert - Federal Forecast 2020

The year 2020 may be the year that the Trump administration moves forward with rolling back vehicle greenhouse gas emissions standards set during the Obama administration in 2012.  In August 2018, EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed the “Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks” (SAFE Vehicles Rule).  The proposed rule would amend the fuel economy and tailpipe carbon emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks through model years 2021 through 2026.  The SAFE Vehicles Rule would maintain the fuel economy and tailpipe emissions standards applicable to vehicle model year 2020 through model years 2021 to 2026, while taking comment on a range of alternative fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions standards. 

As part of the SAFE Vehicles Rule, EPA proposed to withdraw the waiver it previously provided to California for its state greenhouse gas and zero emissions vehicle programs under Section 209 of the Clean Air Act.  That withdrawal of the waiver became final in September 2019, although the remainder of the SAFE Vehicles Rule relating to fuel economy and tailpipe carbon emissions is expected to be finalized in 2020.  The waiver allowed California to set vehicle emissions standards that were more stringent than the federal government standards.  EPA first granted California a waiver in 2009, which covered emissions standards for greenhouse gasses.  As EPA withdrew the waiver, NHTSA finalized regulatory text making it clear that state fuel economy standards are preempted under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act.  At the end of 2019, California and at least 22 other states filed a lawsuit in the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit challenging EPA’s revocation of the waiver.  Whether EPA’s withdrawal of the waiver can withstand judicial scrutiny will be one of the many developments to follow in 2020.