Category Archives: Air pollution

Why California gets to write its own auto emissions standards: 5 questions answered

Repost from LEGALPLANET.org – BerkeleyLaw / UCLA LAW

Why California gets to write its own auto emissions standards: 5 questions answered

Authored by Nicholas Bryner and Meredith Hankins, Posted on April 6, 2018 10:02 am by Nick Bryner
Rush hour on the Hollywood Freeway, Los Angeles, September 9, 2016. AP Photo/Richard Vogel

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Legal Planet editor’s note: On April 2, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the Trump administration plans to revise tailpipe emissions standards negotiated by the Obama administration for motor vehicles built between 2022 and 2025, saying the standards were set “too high.” Pruitt also said the EPA was re-examining California’s historic ability to adopt standards that are more ambitious than the federal government’s. Legal scholars Nicholas Bryner and Meredith Hankins explain why California has this authority – and what may happen if the EPA tries to curb it.

Where does California get this special authority?

The Clean Air Act empowers the EPA to regulate air pollution from motor vehicles. To promote uniformity, the law generally bars states from regulating car emissions.

But when the Clean Air Act was passed, California was already developing innovative laws and standards to address its unique air pollution problems. So Congress carved out an exemption. As long as California’s standards protect public health and welfare at least as strictly as federal law, and are necessary “to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions,” the law requires the EPA to grant California a waiver so it can continue to apply its own regulations. California has received numerous waivers as it has worked to reduce vehicle emissions by enacting ever more stringent standards since the 1960s.

Other states can’t set their own standards, but they can opt to follow California’s motor vehicle emission regulations. Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia have adopted California’s standards.

Gov. Ronald Reagan signs legislation establishing the California Air Resources Board to address the state’s air pollution, August 30, 1967. CA ARB
What are the “compelling and extraordinary conditions” that California’s regulations are designed to address?

In the 1950s scientists recognized that the unique combination of enclosed topography, a rapidly growing population and a warm climate in the Los Angeles air basin was a recipe for dangerous smog. Dutch chemist Arie Jan Haagen-Smit discovered in 1952 that worsening Los Angeles smog episodes were caused by photochemical reactions between California’s sunshine and nitrogen oxides and unburned hydrocarbons in motor vehicle exhaust.

California’s Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board issued regulations mandating use of the nation’s first vehicle emissions control technology in 1961, and developed the nation’s first vehicle emissions standards in 1966. Two years later the EPA adopted standards identical to California’s for model year 1968 cars. UCLA Law scholar Ann Carlson calls this pattern, in which California innovates and federal regulators piggyback on the state’s demonstrated success, “iterative federalism.” This process has continued for decades.

California’s severe air pollution problems have made it a pioneer in air quality research.
California has set ambitious goals for slowing climate change. Is that part of this dispute with the EPA?

Yes. Transportation is now the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States. The tailpipe standards that the Obama EPA put in place were designed to limit GHG emissions from cars by improving average fuel efficiency.

These standards were developed jointly by the EPA, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and California, which have overlapping legal authority to regulate cars. EPA and California have the responsibility to control motor vehicle emissions of air pollutants, including GHGs. DOT is in charge of regulating fuel economy.

Congress began regulating fuel economy in response to the oil crisis in the 1970s. DOT sets the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard that each auto manufacturer must meet. Under this program, average fuel economy in the United States improved in the late 1970s but stagnated from the 1980s to the early 2000s as customers shifted to purchasing larger vehicles, including SUVs, minivans and trucks.

In 2007 Congress responded with a new law that required DOT to set a standard of at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020, and the “maximum feasible average fuel economy” after that. That same year, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act authorized the EPA to regulate GHG emissions from cars.

The Obama administration’s tailpipe standard brought these overlapping mandates together. EPA’s regulation sets how much carbon dioxide can be emitted per mile, which matches with DOT’s increased standard for average fuel economy. It also includes a “midterm review” to assess progress. Administrator Scott Pruitt’s new EPA review, released on April 2, overturned the Obama administration’s midterm review and concluded that the 2022 to 2025 standard was not feasible.

The EPA now argues that earlier assumptions behind the rule were “optimistic” and can’t be met. However, its review almost entirely ignored the purpose of the standards and the costs of continuing to emit GHGs at high levels. Although the document is 38 pages long, the word “climate” never appears, and “carbon” appears only once.

The EPA’s decision does not yet have any legal impact. It leaves the current standards in place until the EPA and DOT decide on a less-stringent replacement.

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from transportation exceeded those from electric power generation in 2016 for the first time since the 1970s.  USEIA
Can the Trump administration take away California’s authority to set stricter targets?

The EPA has never attempted to revoke an existing waiver. In 2007, under George W. Bush, the agency denied California’s request for a waiver to regulate motor vehicle GHG emissions. California sued, but the EPA reversed course under President Obama and granted the state a waiver before the case was resolved.

California’s current waiver was approved in 2013 as a part of a “grand bargain” between California, federal agencies and automakers. It covers the state’s Advanced Clean Cars program and includes standards to reduce conventional air pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, as well as the GHG standards jointly developed with the EPA and DOT.

The Trump administration is threatening to revoke this waiver when it decouples the national GHG vehicle standards from California’s standards. EPA Administrator Pruitt has said that the agency is re-examining the waiver, and that “cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country.” In our view, this statement mischaracterizes how the Clean Air Act works. Other states have voluntarily chosen to follow California’s rules because they see benefits in reducing air pollution.

How would California respond if the EPA revokes its waiver?

Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols have all made clear that the state will push back. It’s almost certain that any attempt to revoke or weaken California’s waiver will immediately be challenged in court – and that this would be a major legal battle.


Nicholas Bryner, Emmett/Frankel Fellow in Environmental Law and Policy, University of California, Los Angeles and Meredith Hankins, Shapiro Fellow in Environmental Law and Policy, University of California, Los Angeles

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Marilyn Bardet on AB617, California’s Community Air Protection Program

February 19, 2018

Benicia air monitoring advocate Marilyn Bardet spoke powerfully at a recent workshop held by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the California Air Resources Board.  Her comments nicely summarize the longstanding neglect of air monitoring in Benicia and the need for state and regional agencies to include Benicia in upcoming community outreach regarding AB617, the Community Air Protection Program.

Here is the 2-minute video clip of Marilyn and the encouraging  1-minute response from the BAAQMD’s Greg Nudd.  Below is more info and the video of the full workshop.

Highly recommended: highly informative video of the entire 2:39 minute workshop:

Full length video of the January 31, 2018 workshop, 2 hours 39 minutes.  (Note that audio doesn’t start until minute 13:20, and the meeting begins at 15:55.  You can move the slider forward to skip the first part.)

MORE about AB617, the Community Air Protection Program:

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CA State Senator seeks higher fines for illegal refinery emissions

Press Release from CA Senate District 3, Rep. Bill Dodd

Sen. Dodd seeks higher fines for illegal refinery emissions

Friday, February 16, 2018

SACRAMENTO – Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) introduced a new bill to help deter harmful emissions from oil refineries. The bill would increase fines for serious violations of emissions standards that sicken people or force shelter-in-place orders.

“There are already fines on the books for illegal refinery emissions, but the most common fine hasn’t been increased since Richard Nixon was in the White House,” said Senator Dodd. “When people are sickened by refinery emissions or forced to shelter-in-place, there should be stiffer penalties. My bill reinforces that oil companies should take proactive steps to avoid violations in the first place.”

Dodd’s bill, SB 1144, would triple existing fines for violations of emissions standards if the violations cause a health problem or impact over 25 people. Existing law doesn’t allow increased penalties for violations that injure nearby residents or for refineries with multiple violations. Currently, the maximum amount for the most common level of fines is $10,000 and hasn’t been adjusted since 1974.

Dodd’s bill would set the new fine at $30,000, and if refineries are found negligent, the amount would go up to $75,000 per day. In instances where a refinery fails to correct a known violation or intentionally violates standards, the violations would be even greater. For serial offenders with multiple serious violations within 36 months, the fines could be as much as $500,000 per day.

“Representing communities that house several refineries, I want to encourage the industry to be proactive in meeting their duty to neighboring residents,” said Senator Dodd. “This measure isn’t a silver bullet for addressing safety, but it certainly provides greater incentive to act responsibly.”

Senator Dodd’s district includes the majority of the Bay Area’s refineries. In September 2016, numerous Vallejo residents were sickened by a refinery incident that triggered over 1,500 complaints. The state’s Office of Emergency Services reported that area hospitals and medical facilities treated 120 patients for headaches, nausea, dizziness, and burning of the eyes, nose and throat. The Bay Area Air Quality Management issued a notice of violation to the refinery in Rodeo for that incident.

The funds from the fines in Dodd’s bill would be available to support more robust monitoring and enforcement. The bill is expected to come up for a committee vote next month.

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Related imageSenator Bill Dodd represents California’s 3rd Senate District, which includes all or portions of Solano, Napa, Sonoma, Yolo, Sacramento, and Contra Costa Counties. You can learn more about Senator Dodd at www.sen.ca.gov/dodd.
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