08/15/2023 - Litigation Quick Take - Student Work

Texas v. EPA Quick Take

by Will McCann, JD 2024

In December 2021, EPA finalized revised greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for light-duty vehicles for model years 2023 through 2026 (“2021 rule”).[1] Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act (CAA) requires EPA to set vehicle emissions standards for air pollutants that cause or contribute to pollution deemed harmful to the public health or welfare.[2] These new standards are more stringent than those promulgated by the Trump administration in 2020[3] and reflect EPA’s consideration of improved vehicle technology, reduced electric vehicle (EV) battery costs, and the shift toward electrification by the auto industry.[4] EPA determined that the emissions standards in the 2021 rule are feasible with reasonable compliance costs and adequate lead time.

The 2021 rule was challenged in the DC Circuit by a group of fifteen states, led by Texas, and a group of industry petitioners. Oral argument is scheduled for Sept. 14, 2023. In May 2023, EPA proposed the next phase of GHG emissions standards.[5] Thus, the current litigation has potential implications for EPA’s authority to regulate GHG emissions from vehicles as well as for the emerging major questions legal doctrine—first articulated by the Supreme Court in West Virginia v. EPA.[6]

In their challenge to the 2021 rule, petitioners argue the costs associated with the rule, its potential impact on electric grid reliability, and possible risks to national security trigger review under the major questions doctrine. They claim that EPA lacks clear congressional authorization for the 2021 rule under CAA section 202(a) and challenge the rule under the Administrative Procedure Act, arguing that EPA improperly accounted for the social cost of carbon in its cost-benefit analyses and impermissibly considered electric vehicles as contributing zero emissions in its fleetwide averaging policies.

EPA and three intervenors[7] argue that the petitioners lack standing, fail to state a claim which the court can remedy, and fail to raise their challenge within the CAA’s 60-day window. In response to the petitioners’ major questions doctrine arguments, they argue that the 2021 rule does not trigger the major questions doctrine given EPA’s longstanding role as a regulator in the auto industry pursuant to its legal authority under CAA section 202(a). Additionally, respondents make the points that the projected cost is consistent with past rules, that the record contains no evidence of the impacts on the electric grid and national security that petitioners allege, and that the 2021 rule is aligned with recent congressional actions supporting EV infrastructure.

EELP will be tracking this litigation as it evolves, including any developments related to the major questions doctrine, and other vehicle emissions regulations. You can stay up to date on our Clean Car Rules Regulatory Tracker Page here.

[1] U.S. EPA, Revised 2023 and Later Model Year Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards (“2021 rule”), 86 Fed. Reg. 74,434, 74442 (Dec. 30, 2021).

[2] 42 U.S.C. § 7521 (a).

[3] U.S., EPA, “The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks,” 85 Fed. Reg. 24,174 (April 20, 2020).

[4] The 2021 rule replaced the Trump EPA’s looser emissions standards under the SAFE Vehicles Rule. See U.S., EPA, “The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks,” 85 Fed. Reg. 24,174 (April 20, 2020).

[5] See Proposed Rule: Multi-Pollutant Emissions Standards for Model Years 2027 and Later Light-Duty and Medium-Duty Vehicles, 88 Fed. Reg. 29184 (May 5, 2023).

[6] West Virginia v. EPA, 142 S. Ct. 2587 (2022).

[7] The intervenors include a group of states, municipalities, and environmental nonprofits; energy companies and other industry groups including the National Coalition for Advanced Transportation, Calpine Corporation, National Grid USA, New York Power Authority and Power Companies Climate Coalition; and auto manufacturers with the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.