California Waiver Trumps EPA Dirty Fuel Rule

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It’s beginning to look like our democracy is actually better defended against strong-man autocracy than I feared.

The constitution, the fourth estate, the rule of law, have all taken massive hits, but remain standing, and are even eking out surprising wins after literally “unpresidented” assaults from the Oval Office.

Trump’s unAmerican rulings are being shot down left and right; from the now twice-defeated Muslim bans, to the universally unloved WealthCare bill, to the flagrant attempt to strip independent oversight of those hoping to buy in on the spectacular corruption of our mob-connected strongman-in-chief.

Clean Air is Next

Now it is the atmosphere’s turn to be attacked. The Trump administration is attempting to make cars more expensive to run, less competitive, and dirtier by rolling back the Obama deal for a 54.5 mpg mileage requirement for model year 2022–2025, (albeit, subject to a “review” (haha) by industry in 2018). The rollback would leave the current mpg of today’s 39.5 mpg in place for the next ten years for “passenger cars and light trucks” (cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs).

In January, the EPA found in its Tech Assessment Report (TAR) that automakers can meet the 54.5 mpg target by ’22–’25 — even with existing technologies in ICE vehicles only — and electric vehicles are not needed to meet the requirements. Though, obviously, EVs more than meet the standards, and thus raise the fleet average. The EPA standards are similar to, and almost as strong as, the European standards that auto manufacturers have to meet for sales in Europe.

But Trump’s attack on auto manufacturing innovation looks like it’s hit a brick wall too: California.

Like the “beautiful” health plan that is now so ugly Trump won’t put his name on it, like the attempted ethics rules rollback, like the two attempted Muslim bans, it looks like the Trump EPA diktat requiring fuel inefficiency will be smashed like a road test dummy.

How California Will Save Fuel Efficiency from Trump

California, the world’s sixth-largest economy — the engine that drives the US economy — also determines the fuel economy of the nation, via the California Waiver, which is a special deal with the EPA dating back to the 1970s. And through the Waiver, California has the power to say “Nu-uh.”

Even more important, what happens in California doesn’t stay in California, when it comes to fuel economy. California’s special deal actually determines the fuel economy of nearly half the drivers in the US.

That’s because 15 states follow the California lead. And these 15 states, being (of course) other blue states, are extremely populous states, so these 15 states contain 40% of the entire US population.

So, what happens in California, doesn’t just help Californians. The California Waiver determines the fuel savings of nearly half the drivers in the US.

Asked during the nomination process by Senator Markey whether he supports the California Waiver, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt wavered, refusing to “prejudge the outcome.”

Why so cagey? According to Robbie Orvis, Policy Design Projects Manager at Energy Innovation, a think tank that advises states on policy, the waiver is enshrined in EPA law in a way that would make it very difficult to repeal.

Orvis is confident that no matter what the Trump administration attempts, it won’t be able to roll back the California Waiver.

The California Waiver Has the Real Teeth

“It’s quite a bit more challenging for the EPA to cancel the California Waiver than, say, to cancel the next phase of the fuel economy standard. And the California Waiver is where the real teeth are,” Orvis told CleanTechnica.

The Trump administration is already doubling down on the ’22 to ’25 model year requirements, as I detailed last week.

Gutted EPA Mileage Rules Will Please Global Petro-States

But the California Waiver is another matter. Regardless of the noise coming out of the Trump administration, there is actually no mechanism in the Clean Air Act to allow the EPA to ever revoke a waiver. Fighting this would be a major legal battle, probably on up to the Supreme Court, requiring identifying a new power in an old law, experts have said.

A Trump legal war on clean air would be time-consuming. And in the meantime, if California called for sticking to the current plan on ’22 to ’25 model year mileage rules, US automakers will obviously need to hear that soon to make plans that meet them.

What Trump’s Dirtier Cars Would Cost Americans

Energy Innovation has released a whitepaper estimating that there will be a 30% increase in US gasoline demand if the Trump administration rolls back the 2022–2025 model year mileage requirement, in acceding to the demands of an alliance of automakers to allow them to make less efficient, dirtier vehicles. (The gains already made are not at risk of rollback.)

By 2050, this rollback would cost US consumers $800 billion — an additional $630 per year, per household. and that’s if gas prices remain low, which is unlikely.

“If oil prices were to be higher — in a high price scenario, with oil prices at $230 per barrel, and $5.60 cents per gallon of gasoline — that would cost over $900 per household/per year,” said Orvis.

But all this is what is going to happen if the Trump administration succeeds in rolling back the second phase, covering model years ’22 to ’25.

“The current fuel standards enacted under President Obama are in two phases,” said Orvis. “The earlier standards are already in place. These are being met.”

Originally, President Obama and the EPA had agreed to a review of the standards in 2018 that would would be used to determine if the agency would go forward with stronger standards for ’22 to ’25.

Huge Obama Win on Fuel Economy Under Investigation by Republicans

The higher standards were a deal the automakers had made in return for bailouts by the Obama administration at a time when they were over a barrel and facing bankruptcies from when gas costs were high and their cars were losing out to more efficient foreign models.

With the Trump administration committed to dismantling the EPA, however, the outgoing Obama EPA finalized its decision before leaving, deciding to keep to the plan without a further review in 2018.

Bottom Line?

Even rolling back the 54.5 mpg requirement is not going to have as much impact, because there is the California Waiver. California can set the requirements at the level it hopes for. California could call for continuing on this path to 54.5 mpg by 2022–2025.

And California is lawyering up, and is pretty adamant about holding on to its waiver.

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