Top Stories of 2019: Car Wars and Federalism

News about electric vehicles — both cars and trucks — and particularly the efforts of California and other states to elevate their standards on tailpipe emissions to both reduce carbon and toxic air emissions made headlines throughout the year in Our Daily Planet.  From the Green New Deal and all the 2020 Democratic candidates’ big ambitions to make all new vehicles electric by the end of the next decade, to the growth of the market and its expansion into trucks thanks to Elon Musk, to the state of California and Ford splitting with the Trump Administration and GM/Chrysler, cars were big news in 2019.  Unfortunately, some car companies seemed to be going in reverse — like GM and its new monster trucks, and the overall rise of less fuel-efficient SUVs versus sedans.

Why This Matters: The future of cars/trucks and new jobs in the auto industry is electric — if only we can get out of our own way to speed them to the finish line.  But this story will have ripple effects beyond even autos.  The fact that the states are now leading the charge on electric vehicles turns on its head the traditional notion of state governments lowering standards because they are captive to industry and thus there is a need for a uniform federal rule or law to ensure strong environmental standards everywhere.  The auto companies siding with the Trump Administration are using federalism as a way to try to LOWER the standards everywhere and hold the progress ive states back.  Yes, the Clean Air Act carved out California and gave them the right to set a tougher standard due to their persistent air pollution from cars.  But this fight over the rights of states to set tougher standards — for water pollution and the clean up of toxic waste sites is playing itself out across the nation and even in the Supreme Court.  This could fundamentally alter our system of strong federal environmental laws “trumping” the states’ environmental laws.  The bottom line is that cleaning our air has never been more important — research shows that air pollution causes more than 100,000 premature deaths a year.  

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