EPA Grants California Clean Air Act Waiver To Implement Clean Car Emissions Rules

The Environmental Protection Agency has granted California a Clean Air Act waiver allowing the state to set new standards to control emissions of various pollutants, including greenhouse gases, for passenger vehicles through 2025.  

The waiver, announced in a Federal Register notice signed Dec. 27, allows California to implement its Advanced Clean Cars Program. The program includes regulations to phase in stricter fleet average standards for 2015-2025 model year cars and light-duty trucks to further reduce nitrogen oxide and hydrocarbon emissions, increase engine durability requirements from 120,000 miles to 150,000 miles, and impose new particulate emissions standards on gasoline-powered cars.

California's regulations also set new greenhouse gas emissions limits for 2017-2025 model year cars and light-duty trucks.

California set an emissions limit of 166 grams of carbon dioxide-equivalent per mile by 2025, comparable to the federal standards set by EPA. The rules rely on off-the-shelf technologies, including variable valve controls, direct injection, turbochargers, cylinder deactivation, engine stop-start, low-emitting refrigerants for air conditioning systems, and improvements in transmissions.

California's zero emission vehicle program is also intended to commercialize battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles. The state has set a goal of those technologies reaching 15 percent of all new vehicle sales in California by 2025.

“This decision by the federal government recognizes California's important role under the Clean Air Act to set the toughest vehicle emissions standards in the nation,” Mary D. Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board, said in a statement Dec. 27. “It also allows other states to adopt California's package of clean car regulations, helping clean up the air and save consumers nationwide billions of dollars at the pump.”

Rules Comparable to Federal Standards

The California requirements, which were supported by automobile manufacturers, include a provision that allows auto makers to demonstrate compliance with the state regulations by showing they have achieved federal greenhouse gas emissions standards.

Congress under the Clean Air Act preempted all state and local governments from adopting or enforcing emission standards for new motor vehicles, although it allowed California to receive a waiver of preemption for its emission standards and enforcement procedures under Section 209(b).

Other states can only adopt standards that are identical to California's standards. The provision preserved a pivotal role for California in the control of emissions from new motor vehicles, recognizing that California could serve as a laboratory for setting new motor vehicle emission standards, according to EPA.

EPA can grant the state a waiver allowing it to set its own vehicle standards, provided the agency determines the state requirements are at least as protective as comparable federal rules.

Rhode Island recently issued emergency rules to adopt the California Advanced Clean Car Program standards.

EPA, NHTSA Standards

At the federal level, EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration set joint greenhouse gas emissions and corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards for model year 2017 through 2025 vehicles in 2012. EPA's greenhouse gas rule set an average carbon dioxide limit of 163 grams per mile by 2025, which would equate to 54.5 miles per gallon if emissions are reduced primarily through fuel economy improvements (76 Fed. Reg. 74,854).

The California Air Resources Board unanimously approved the package of standards for the Advanced Clean Cars Program in January 2012.

By Andrew Childers  

EPA's notice granting California's Clean Air Act waiver request for its Advanced Clean Cars Program is available at http://www.epa.gov/otaq/cafr.htm.

For more information, contact David Dickinson in EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality at (202) 343-9256 or Dickinson.David@epa.gov.