Reversing Trump, Biden reinstates California authority to set pollution standards for cars

The Biden administration on Wednesday restored California's authority to set its own tailpipe emission standards for cars and light trucks, reversing a policy put in place by former President Donald Trump.

The policy change announced by the Environmental Protection Agency overturns a 2019 decision made by the Trump administration that stripped the nation's most populous state of the ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles that are causing climate change.

"Today we proudly reaffirm California's long-standing authority to lead in addressing pollution from cars and trucks," EPA Administrator Michael Regan said. "With today's action, we reinstate an approach that for years has helped advance clean technologies and cut air pollution for people not just in California, but for the U.S. as a whole."

Because so many vehicles are sold in California, the state has tremendous sway over the industry, as well as over other states in the nation. At least 15 states and the District of Columbia had followed California's lead in adopting tougher vehicle air pollution standards than were in place federally, the Associated Press reported.

California is also looking to implement a requirement that prohibits the sale of new gasoline-powered cars in the state after 2035. What used to be known as the "Big Three" U.S. automakers — General Motors, Ford and Daimler Chrysler — have already pledged to transition their fleets to electric vehicles by that same year.

Trump had revoked California's ability to set its own auto pollution standards, a move that also prohibited other states from implementing them.

Under the restoration of a Clean Air Act waiver issued by the EPA on Wednesday, the California Air Resources Board will now decide how the state will enforce the vehicle pollution standards and set stricter fuel efficiency standards.

As of 2019, the transportation sector accounted for 29 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., the EPA says on its website.

"Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation primarily come from burning fossil fuel for our cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes," it states.

Seven rows of vehicles stalled to a standstill on a Los Angeles freeway.
Rush hour on the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

With Biden's climate change agenda stalled in Congress, the importance of allowing states like California to lead the way on cuts to greenhouse gas emissions cannot be overstated, climate change experts say.

Trump, meanwhile, continues to declare that climate change is a "hoax."

"The global warming hoax, it just never ends," the former president said in a speech last weekend in New Orleans.

In response to the reinstatement of the EPA waiver, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, praised the current president, while taking aim at his predecessor.

"I want to thank the Biden administration for righting the reckless wrongs of the Trump administration and recognizing our decades-old authority to protect Californians and our planet," Newsom said in a statement on the reinstatement of the EPA waiver.