December 20, 2019

SAFE Rule: Federal-state tension in auto emission regulation

Peter Whitfield and Aaron L. Flyer

As far back as the 1960s, California has adopted its own air quality standards for tailpipe pollution. This has set the pace for advancements in vehicle emissions controls nationwide. However, California’s delegated authority to administer its own regulatory programs under the Clean Air Act and other federal environmental laws has been revisited by the Trump administration. This federal-state tension is, perhaps, most pronounced in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s proposed Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicle Rule (SAFE Rule). This rule proposes to rescind California’s authority to administer its Zero-Emission Vehicle mandate and relax federal greenhouse gas (GHG) and fuel economy requirements that were previously adopted by the past administration. The SAFE Rule and ensuing litigation challenging the rule will determine what room, if any, exists for California and state regulation of fuel economy and tailpipe emissions.

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