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A Gang of Thirteen — The Attorneys General Condemning Rollback of Federal Emissions Standards

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On March 15, 2017, President Trump rescinded “executive action of new vehicle emission standards” claiming that the previous administration had set these federal fuel efficiency standards “far into the future” and then threatened auto jobs by cancelling a previously promised midterm review of the standards. Trump stated that “if the standards threatened auto jobs then common sense changes could have and should have been made.” Trump claimed that “[j]ust days before my inauguration the previous administration cut short the promised mid-term review in an eleventh hour executive action.” In cancelling the executive action, Trump restored the originally scheduled mid-term review to “ensure that any regulations protect and defend your jobs, your factories, and [are] going to be fair.”

These federal fuel efficiency standards date back to 2012, when the EPA adopted increasingly stringent emissions standards for model year 2017-25 cars and light trucks. In adopting these standards, the EPA promised a midterm review to determine if the standards were achievable for model years 2022-25. That review was allegedly completed in January 2017. At the time, the EPA determined that the standards could be achieved by current technology at a reasonable cost, would significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and that the standards would promote economic and environmental benefits.

In June, the attorney general from Vermont announced that he joined the attorneys general from 12 other states — New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, District of Columbia, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington —  in condemning this “revisit.” The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection also joined. In a letter to Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the EPA, the attorneys general rejected the EPA’s claim that the prior midterm evaluation was not proper. The letter contested the EPA’s May 2, 2017 response to California Governor Jerry Brown, claiming the mid-term evaluation was flawed both legally and procedurally. The letter from the attorneys general referenced the 2009 collaborative effort of the EPA, other governmental agencies, and the auto industry in the 2012 rule making process and the adoption of 77 Fed. Reg. 62, 624 (Oct. 15, 2012). The attorneys general claim that the EPA followed the process established in the regulations by conducting extensive research, and issuing a draft technical report.

According to the attorneys general, the collaborative effort determined that these vehicle emission standards would substantially cut carbon pollution — eliminating the emissions equivalent 422 million cars on the road. The letter also contests the issue of prematurity claiming that the EPA completed the midterm evaluation one year ahead of schedule. The attorneys general maintain that the EPA mid-term evaluation was “lawful and fully supported by the record” and they “intend to vigorously pursue appropriate legal remedies to block such action.” It remains to be seen whether California or any other state will spearhead a state sponsored approach to this emissions issue.