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Three major automakers announced late Monday that they will join the ongoing litigation on clean cars in support of the federal government’s authority to decide whether there should be a single, federally mandated fuel economy standard, although the companies stopped short of endorsing the administration’s proposal to roll back fuel efficiency standards for cars. A spokesman for the coalition of car companies told the Washington Post that they are hoping that by taking this position they can force California and the other auto companies and the White House to compromise on one standard somewhere in the middle of the two sides’ proposals.
Why This Matters: The car companies need certainty so that they can plan ahead, cut the cost of regulatory compliance and avoid having to meet numerous different standards for different states. Ordinarily environmental NGOs favor this position because traditionally federal environmental standards are tougher than those set by state governments and federal environmental laws are pre-eminent. In this case, the situation is reversed — the federal standards are weaker than those set by California, and the federal Clean Air Act actually permits the state of California to set its own standard as long as it is stricter than the federal one and needed to clear California’s air. The California clean-car standard is essential for the U.S. to cut carbon emissions. These companies know that California is within its rights under the Clean Air Act to set a tougher standard and they should be working to electrify the fleet not double down on continuing with fossil fuels.
The Other Car Companies
Ford, Honda, and Volkswagen reached an agreement with California last July — they will produce fuel-efficient cars and trucks through 2025 that meet the tougher Obama standard and said they would do that nationwide – thereby getting the single standard they desired. The Trump administration called the agreement a “PR stunt” and vowed to fight them in court — not just lower the federal standard but also take away California’s ability to set its own fuel efficiency standard (one that other states are allowed to follow).
The Dueling Standards
According to the Times, the Obama Administration put in place a regulation that required automakers “to build vehicles that achieve an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, which would eliminate about six billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution over the lifetime of those vehicles.” The Trump Administration is working on a rule that would essentially return the average fuel economy standard to 37 miles per gallon. Cars and trucks are the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States The Washington Post reported, and thus improving the fuel efficiency of vehicles will be key to lowering the U.S.’ carbon footprint. Auto emissions have been found to cause tens of thousands of deaths each year.
As the Biden administration is readying a reversal of the Trump policies loosening rules on auto emissions, many states have started tightening their laws to align with the California clean car standards. Case in point: the Virginia legislature last week passed a law that toughened its emissions standards.
Gas flaring was responsible for Texas’s recent increase in oil refinery pollution, but it’s hardly a new problem. We’re less than a decade away from the UN’s goal of Zero Routine Flaring by 2030, but refineries still flare 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year, releasing 400 million tons of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants into the atmosphere.
Why This Matters: Companies have historically practiced gas flaring as a convenient and inexpensive way to “dispose of ” gas that was extracted alongside oil, as opposed to storing paying to store it.
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