Office of the Vermont Attorney General

Attorney General Donovan Opposes Federal Roll Back of Vehicle Emission Standards

October 26, 2018

CONTACT:    Nicholas Persampieri, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-3171

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan joined a coalition of 21 attorneys general and 5 cities, to oppose the federal government’s plan to roll back federal greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emission and fuel economy standards for cars and trucks.  The federal plan also seeks to bar California and states which have adopted California’s standards, including Vermont, from using state standards to reduce GHG emissions.  If adopted, the plan would weaken requirements to reduce GHG tailpipe emissions that are the most significant step the nation has taken to fight climate change, and weaken requirements to make fuel economy improvements that save drivers money on gas. The coalition includes every state attorney general from jurisdictions that have adopted California’s standards.

“Climate change is real,” said Attorney General Donovan. “These standards play a key role in the fight against climate change. The standards also help consumers save money at the gas pump. Vermonters want and deserve clean air. We have been a leader nationally in the area of vehicle emissions and Vermont will remain committed to clean air and to fighting the federal rollback.”

In a comment letter, and the more detailed comments attached, submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the coalition argued that the federal government’s plan to roll back emission standards was contrary to the EPA’s statutory obligations under the Clean Air Act to reduce the emission of dangerous pollutants.  The comments also contend that the federal government has no authority to revoke the waiver it previously granted to California, which allowed California to adopt its own standards, or to prevent Vermont and the other states which have adopted California’s standards from enforcing those standards as state law. Attorney General Donovan and the coalition of attorneys general are committed to opposing the rollback of federal rules and defending the rights of California, Vermont, and other states to continue to enforce their own emission standards.

Internal combustion engines from motor vehicles emit a variety of air pollutants harmful to human health and the environment. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to establish national emission standards for new motor vehicles. Section 209 of the Act authorizes the State of California to adopt emission standards more stringent than the federal standards, and Section 177 of the Act authorizes other states to adopt those same standards for new motor vehicles sold within their states.

In 2012, EPA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”), California, and major automakers, agreed to a single national program to limit greenhouse gas emissions and require fuel economy improvements from new passenger cars and light-duty trucks for model years 2017-25.  The standards are expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions by two billion metric tons—the equivalent of the annual emissions of 422 million cars currently on the road—and save $1.7 trillion in fuel costs.

In January 2017, EPA, based on detailed technical analysis, determined, in its “mid-term review,” that the federal standards applicable to cars and light duty trucks for model years 2022-25 are readily achievable by the auto industry. The agency concluded that while the record supported making the standards even more stringent, it decided “to retain the current standards to provide regulatory certainty for the auto industry.” In April 2018, EPA arbitrarily reversed course and asserted that the 2022-2025 standards are no longer appropriate.  In August 2018, EPA and NHTSA issued their current proposal to freeze GHG emission and fuel economy standards at 2020 levels for model years 2021-2026 rather than require previously agreed to annual improvements.

Vermont has a longstanding history of working with California and other states to adopt and enforce vehicle emission standards to combat air pollution. For example, in 2007 the Vermont Attorney General, with the assistance of other states, successfully defended the first vehicle emission standards for greenhouse gases issued by California.  This case was tried in Federal District Court in Vermont. Subsequently, Vermont and other states joined California in successfully defending EPA’s 2009 decision to grant California a waiver to adopt its greenhouse gas emission regulations. Several of the coalition states, including Vermont, also brought the landmark Massachusetts v. EPA case in which the Supreme Court held that EPA has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles that endanger public health and welfare.

Joining Attorney General Donovan in the coalition are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and the cities of Los Angeles, New York, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose.

Last modified: October 26, 2018