A new complex web of standards for control of vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) is coming at a time of unprecedented challenges to the auto industry. The timing raises questions as to whether the Bush Administration’s denial of California’s request to establish separate GHG standards is really worth re-visiting.
On January 26, 2009 President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum directing U.S. EPA to assess whether denial of California’s waiver request to allow it to implement emission standards for GHGs from vehicles was appropriate in light of the Clean Air Act. The memo forces EPA to reconsider the previous Denial of a Greenhouse Gas Waiver of Preemption for the State of California that was published in the Federal Register on February 12, 2009.
The decision to revisit the denial of California’s Waiver request comes at a time of unprecedented challenges for the Big Three Automakers. Just over the weekend the Obama Administration rejected re-structuring plans and ousted General Motors CEO, Rick Wagoner. With the major auto companies in survival (or near bankruptcy) mode, why is the Obama Administration complicating the regulatory structure for manufacturers?
There Was A Sound Basis to Deny the Waiver Request
Former Administrator Stephen Johnson denied California Air Resources Board’s (CARB’s) request for a waiver to regulate greenhouse gases deeming it unnecessary in order to "meet compelling and extraordinary conditions." Johnson found C02 to be different than other pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act, concluding that:
“section 209(b) was intended to allow California to promulgate state standards applicable to emissions from new motor vehicles to address pollution problems that are local or regional. I do not believe section 209(b)(1)(B) was intended to allow California to promulgate state standards for emissions from new motor vehicles designed to address global climate change problems."
While California and the other states that adopted the CARB standards challenged the denial, no Court reached the decision that Administrator Johnson acted unlawfully.
Many who support the CARB standards cite litigation in other contexts to argue the denial was unlawful. Supporters cite to decisions that found the CARB standards are not preempted by the CAFE standards. In those cases, the Courts generally recognized there is overlap between CAFE and the California GHG standards, however they rejected the claim this meant the standards were preempted. Green Mountain Chrysler v. Vermont. Supporters of the CARB standards also point to language in the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA which rejected EPA’s policy reluctance to regulate GHGs.
Courts finding: a) the CARB standards are not preempted ;and b) GHG need to be regulated as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act- is a far cry from finding California’s can establish its own GHG standards for motor vehicles. The Bush Administration properly determined the ability to set separate emission standards is limited to standards necessary to address local pollution problems like ozone or particulates.
Regardless, it appears the writing is on the wall and EPA will reverse course and grant the waiver. Otherwise, why would the President have issued such a directive. Also, the Presidential Memorandum notes that "For decades, the EPA has granted the State of California such waivers"- a nod that history should be repeated by granting the waiver.
A Complex Regulatory Structure During Unprecedented Challenges to the Automobile Industry
EPA’s decision on the waiver denial comes at the same time it is poised to issue its "endangerment finding" under Section 202 of the Clean Air Act. The finding will set in motion the development of national standards for controlling GHGs from motor vehicles. It has been reported that a positive "endangerment finding" was sent to the White House for review.
Granting the CARB waiver request opens the way for implementation of the state standards in California and thirteen other states which in total represent about 40% of the U.S. auto market. After promulgation of GHG standards under Section 202 ("endangerment finding"), there will be potentially three methods for regulating fuel economy from vehicles and two methods for reducing GHG emissions- CARB, Section 202 and CAFE standards.
Of the three regulatory approaches, the CARB standards are by far the most inconsistent and difficult to implement. Instead of two or three standards, the CARB waiver request will result in a patchwork of regulations across the country.
The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) performed an analysis of the effect of the CARB Standards being adopted by other thirteen other states- “Patchwork Proven: Why a Single National Fuel Economy Standard is Better for America than a Patchwork of State Regulation.” As set forth in the NADA study, the CARB regulations base compliance on what an automaker “delivers for sale” in that state. Therefore, states which adopted the CARB standards will force auto manufacturers to develop and implement more than a dozen separate compliance plans. This unnecessarily complex regulation will raise costs for consumers and will ultimately delay the introduction of advanced technologies to market.
With EPA about to establish national GHG standards for motor vehicles under Section 202 of the Clean Air Act, why revisit the Bush Administration’s denial of the California Waiver? At this critical juncture for the auto industry, a complex regulatory scheme for controlling GHG emissions appears unwise.