Local Government Coalitions File Brief Supporting California’s Authority to Set Climate-Protective Vehicle Emissions Standards

Today, the Sabin Center filed an amicus brief on behalf of local government associations in support of state, city, environmental, and industry petitioners in Union of Concerned Scientists v. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The lawsuit challenges Part One of the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicles (SAFE) Rule, the Trump Administration’s effort to roll back greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for cars.

In Part One of the SAFE Rule, issued in September 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) withdrew California’s authority to implement its existing greenhouse gas and zero-emission vehicle standards. In general the EPA’s power to regulate motor vehicle emissions under the Clean Air Act preempts states’ ability to do so. However, California may seek a waiver to set its own regulations that are at least as protective as applicable federal rules. In 2013 the EPA granted California a waiver for its greenhouse gas standards, which twelve other states have since adopted. Part One of the SAFE Rule withdraws that waiver. In Part One, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also declared that its authority to set fuel economy standards preempts states’ ability to regulate greenhouse gases from motor vehicles.

In Part Two of the SAFE Rule, issued in March 2020, the agencies significantly weakened federal greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards. As a result, the Trump Administration lowered the national bar, and forced states to sink to its level.

The local government amicus brief illustrates the threats that motor vehicle emissions pose to cities, including climate impacts and public health harms associated with smog and particulate matter. The local government coalitions also warn that NHTSA’s novel interpretation of fuel economy standard preemption is dangerous to longstanding local efforts to curb transportation pollution; that the EPA failed to consider the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution from motor vehicles; that the EPA ignored local governments’ reliance on California’s motor vehicle standards; and that the EPA unlawfully disregarded the environmental justice impacts of its action, including the fact that communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by climate change and transportation pollution.

Read the brief here.

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