The EPA Must Make Clean Car Standards Stronger

By Amit Narang

This summer was a devastating reminder that the climate crisis is here, and the effects of climate change are being felt across the country right now.  This is why it’s so important that President Joe Biden made fighting the climate crisis a central priority for his administration from day one. In fact, one of the most important actions the Biden administration can take to slash carbon emissions, while also lowering air pollution, is to reverse the rollback of the clean car fuel economy standards under the Trump administration and strengthen the rules.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently proposed to do just that by restoring the clean car standards, but Public Citizen has discovered that the new standards proposed by the EPA were criticized by many officials in the Biden administration as being too weak to meet the climate crisis moment we’re now in. And the internal critics were right.

Unfortunately, the EPA decided to ignore those officials and propose weak standards that include numerous loopholes for the auto industry. Ultimately, if the EPA decides to finalize these standards without strengthening them, it will be a missed opportunity for the kind of aggressive action on climate that is needed given the urgency of the crisis.

When the EPA proposed the new clean car standards last month, it also made public thousands of pages of documents and communications that were exchanged between the EPA and other agencies while the proposal was being developed. These internal, behind the scenes documents are usually never made public, but the EPA is required to disclose them when it writes rules under the Clean Air Act. That doesn’t mean the documents are easy to find or sift through. Fortunately, we at Public Citizen know where to look.

What we found was eye-opening and troubling. Numerous Biden administration officials that reviewed the proposal while it was under development told the EPA that “it’s not clear” how the proposed clean car standards are “consistent with the President’s goal of economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions reductions” and that “most reviewers suggested considering a more stringent proposal here or in the final rule.” These comments make it clear that the EPA’s proposed standards were viewed by multiple Biden administration officials as too weak to accomplish the president’s aggressive climate agenda.

These criticisms of the EPA’s too weak clean car standards mirrored and echoed what experts in the environmental community told the EPA over two days of public hearings on the proposed standards. For example, our friends at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) urged the EPA to “to finalize a stronger clean cars rule to maximize near-term carbon pollution reductions and set the United States on the best path for even stronger future standards that meet the moment on climate.”

While it is very disappointing that the EPA chose not to adopt the strongest possible clean car standards in its proposal, the silver lining is there is still time for the agency to make the final rule stronger. But the EPA needs to hear from you!

You can take action to make your voice heard by telling the EPA to adopt stronger clean car standards before the deadline on Monday to submit comments.