03/26/2021 - Legal Analysis - Student Work

Rethinking the “One National Program” for Clean Cars: Where Does the Biden Administration Go from Here?

by Lia Cattaneo, JD/MPP 2022

President Biden kickstarted his domestic climate agenda with an Executive Order that requires agencies to review certain Trump administration regulations, including the two Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rules. These rules represent the latest in an escalating legal and political battle over motor vehicle standards issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the State of California.

The Clean Air Act creates nationwide motor vehicle emission standards and preempts competing state standards. However, it permits California alone to seek a preemption waiver in order to adopt and enforce more stringent standards than the federal ones. Other states can adopt California’s standards, and several states have now done so.

Part I of the SAFE Vehicles Rules relied on novel legal interpretations of the Clean Air Act and the Energy Policy and Conservation Act to do two things: (1) preempt and withdraw California’s 2013 waiver for greenhouse gas and zero-emission vehicle standards on two separate bases, and (2) bar other states from adopting California’s greenhouse gas standards. The Part II Rule, released later, set the federal government’s technological standards. Together, the two rules established “One National Program” for motor vehicle standards, permitting only the federal standards to be enforced, rather than both federal and California standards, as under the previous two-program system.

States and localities, environmental groups, and other interest groups challenged the Part I Rule in federal court. Although the D.C. Circuit received briefs in the case, the court granted the Biden administration’s request to hold the litigation in abeyance until the administration completes its review of the Part I Rule.

In this piece, Lia Cattaneo analyzes what legal questions the Biden administration will face in its review of the Part I Rule, and what options the agencies have moving forward.

Read the full piece here: Rethinking the “One National Program” for Clean Cars: Where Does the Biden Administration Go from Here?