Gas War: EPA Reinstates California's Ability to Set Emission Limits, EV Mandates

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has opted to reinstate California’s ability to set tailpipe rules and zero-emission vehicle mandates that are more rigid than federal standards. After quarreling for years over the Trump administration’s decision to roll back Obama-era fueling standards deemed untenable, the Golden State now has the ability to once again make harder for its citizens by forcing them to purchase the kind of vehicles it feels they should be driving — rather than leaving it up to the individual that’s actually buying the car.

Though it might not matter at this point. While California effectively served as a defensive shield against proposed fueling rollbacks while Trump was in office, the Biden administration strategy is broadly in line with its agenda of making gasoline unappetizing to consumers to ensure a speedy transition to electric vehicles. California doesn’t even want people to have access to gas-powered lawn care equipment. The state has effectively served as a test case for Build Back Better since before the phrase passed through the lips of a single politician.

If you need a refresher on how we got here, we recently posted a recap on why fuel prices have gotten so high ahead of President Biden’s decision to ban Russian energy from coming into the United States. But, if you want a chronicling of government actors bickering about who gets to control what kind of car you drive over the last few years, I would suggest reviewing our Gas War series. It covers the formation of the conflict, automakers’ habitual switching of sides, California’s highly influential role, how a changing of the guard effectively secured a win for the Golden State, and just about everything in between.

There are dozens of articles covering the matter on this website. However, those preferring the abridged version need only know that waivers under the Clean Air Act allowing California to set its own emissions laws were being nixed under the rollback to prevent it from leveraging its size to influence the national market. Though that’s ultimately what happened anyway after numerous automakers and like-minded states vowed to adhere to Cali’s rules instead of rolling with more-lax rules proposed by the Trump administration. Now, the Biden EPA has opted to reinstate any privileges revoked by the previous White House.

“Today, we proudly reaffirm California’s longstanding authority to lead in addressing pollution from cars and trucks,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “Our partnership with states to confront the climate crisis has never been more important. With today’s action, we reinstate an approach that for years has helped advance clean technologies and cut air pollution for people not just in California, but for the U.S. as a whole.”

In the same announcement, the agency also confirmed that it would be withdrawing the SAFE-1 interpretation of the Clean Air Act that would prohibit other states from adopting the California greenhouse gas (GHG) emission standards. Any state may now formally choose to adopt and enforce California’s stringent standards, rather than national standards, through Section 177 of the Clean Air Act.

Late in 2021, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) similarly withdrew its contributions to the Trump administration’s rollback in the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule Part One.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has said the decisions solve remedies the prior presidency’s “groundless ​attack on a critical program that is based on California’s decades ​of experience setting emissions standards as authorized by law.”

Meanwhile, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced plans on Thursday to significantly increase electric vehicle requirements by 2030 to ensure gasoline-powered vehicles are entirely phased out by 2035. Though it should be said that the state has the absolute highest fuel prices in the whole country with an average of $5.70 per gallon for 87 octane.

While we could certainly speculate as to why our betters in the government have advised us to simply endure higher prices as part of our civic duty. Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have both suggested Americans annoyed with the rising cost of fuel quickly purchase electric vehicles — which typically retail for at least $10,000 over the average price of a new automobile in the United States. Tesla, whose CEO has been begging the government to allow for more oil production, also raised prices on its most affordable models this week after citing material costs. Shipping rates have likewise gone up across the board, with the trucking industry presently incapable of transitioning to EVs that don’t yet exist.

[Image: Konstantin Yolshin/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Chiefmonkey Bet on it getting 5-10 MPG less than the advertised rating.
  • FreedMike Maybe they will be the Alpine distributors.
  • TheEndlessEnigma The Mitsubishi hate and snark in many of these comments is expected. I really do need to challenge anyone here who bristles at the mention of Mitsu and immediately begins a Tourette's inspired flow of vitriol. Before you rant on about how bad Mitsu's are, get into one and drive it. Surprise surprise, they are good vehicles, it's just kewl and hip to be a lemming and blindly follow the "Mitsubishi Sucks Because Doug DeMuro Told Me So" crowd.
  • EBFlex Remember when they introduced legislation to take natural gas stoves away? Now they want to charge electric trucks with it? If liberals didn’t have double standards they wouldn’t have any at all.
  • Glennbk First, Cadillac no longer has brand cache. And as such, the prices need to drop. Second, reliability. Cadillac doesn't have that either. Dedicate GM funds to re-design the High Value Engines. Third, interiors are too gimmicky. Take a step back and bring back more buttons and less black plasti-chrome. Forth, noise isolation. These are supposed to be luxury cars, but sound like a Malibu inside.