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States have a role to play in regulating greenhouse gases from vehicles


This week, EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will finalize their joint program setting tough new fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards.  This program was finalized as the result of an agreement reached by officials from EPA, the Department of Transportation, and state regulators.  These historic standards will be the first to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  This is a great step forward for climate protection.

But attacks are mounting on many fronts to undermine the means by which this program is possible.  The Kerry-Graham-Lieberman climate bill is being hashed out with final details coming in April.  Among the expected compromises in the bill is one that would eliminate the authority of states to set stricter greenhouse gas regulations than those adopted federally.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, in a letter to Sen. John Kerry wrote of removing states’ authority: “In my view, preempting leading states would be a huge mistake: we should definitely set a floor, but not a ceiling.”

The innovation of California through setting greenhouse gas emissions standards for light duty vehicles pushed the federal program to go further faster.  The standards to be finalized this week will call for cars and light trucks to reach a fleet average of 34.1 miles per gallon in 2016 – almost reaching the target set by Congress in 2007 of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2020.

This blog has touched on other efforts to curtail Clean Air Act authority.  After the initial round of congressionally-mandated fuel economy standards was phased-in in 1985, no action was taken on fuel economy until 2007.  And that action was largely a response to pressure from the states.  We can’t afford to eliminate flexibility in policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect against climate change.

Lena Pons is a transportation policy analyst for Public Citizen.

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