Public Citizen to Court: Federal Agencies Can’t Override California Emissions Standards

Statement of Scott Nelson, Attorney, Public Citizen Litigation Group

Note: Today, Public Citizen, together with other consumer and environmental groups and a coalition of state and municipal governments and agencies led by California, submitted a brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit explaining that the federal government acted unlawfully in taking actions purporting to preempt California’s greenhouse gas emissions standards and zero-emission vehicle standards for cars and light trucks. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had no authority and no basis for withdrawing a Clean Air Act waiver it had previously issued to California, to allow the state to enforce its standards and allow other states to adopt them. The Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which gives the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) the power to issue fuel economy standards, specifically was designed to accommodate California auto emission standards and gives the agency no authority to issue regulations claiming to preempt those standards.

The Trump administration’s approach to global warming follows the same playbook as its failed COVID-19 response: minimize the problem, prevent federal agencies from taking strong action to address it and get in the way when states use their authority to step into the breach.

The administration’s actions to roll back greenhouse gas standards – if they stand – will move us closer to global climate catastrophe.

One of the key elements of the administration’s approach – its attempt to override California’s strong efforts to cut back on greenhouse emissions from automobiles – suffers from fatal legal flaws. In a separate court challenge to the rollback of the EPA’s and NHTSA’s own standards, we will likewise show that those actions are invalid.

These court cases will restore the strong state and federal standards needed to address the impact of our nation’s cars on the climate crisis.