Column epa shouldn’t undermine states’ right to restrict auto emissions opinion gas constant in atm


At the federal level, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have developed minimum federal standards, policies, and programs to combat air and other forms of pollution. These federal standards are the floor and, given a compelling need, states have the flexibility and right to go above and beyond to further protect human health and the environment.

In addition, in the absence of federal action, states have often addressed emerging issues and contaminants or adopted novel approaches to addressing longstanding problems. For the past 50 years, this is how cooperative federalism has worked in environmental law and policy.

States have led the way on so many important environmental issues – and are currently leading the way on addressing clean air and climate change. Instead of joining the states in leading on climate change, the current federal administration has taken a number of steps that weaken or, worse, actively undermine this critical work.

Along with my colleagues who are leaders of the environmental protection agencies from Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont, we stand united in our commitment to protect the health and wellbeing of the people we represent, and to defend scientists and researchers who have established that human action is fundamentally altering the climate of the planet we live on – the only planet we have.

Human-induced climate change is the most significant environmental issue we face today. Acting now to mitigate the most damaging impacts of climate change is critical to public and ecological health – and offers one of the greatest opportunities for reshaping, reenergizing and transforming our economy to create the green jobs and sustainable industries of the future.

Individually and collectively with other states, we are using the tools available to us to fight back against these federal rollbacks of our foundational environmental laws and regulations, and mitigate against federal disinvestment from clean energy and clean technology.

The cars and trucks we drive are among the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. In our states, approximately 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and up to 70 percent of our smog-forming air emissions come from the transportation sector of our economies. Requiring car manufacturers to develop and build highly fuel efficient, as well as low and zero emissions vehicles, is the most cost-effective means to reduce pollution for the health and wellbeing of our citizens and our planet, and it saves consumers money on fuel and maintenance.

The original Clean Air Act of 1970 explicitly provided states the right to adopt stronger vehicle emissions standards than the federal government. Specifically, Section 209 gives California the right to impose vehicle emissions standards that meet or exceed the federal standards.

California’s special treatment in the Clean Air Act comes from its historic air pollution challenges, which predate the Clean Air Act. California has consistently met the statutory requirement necessary for EPA to grant the Section 209 waiver, also known as the California waiver.

Another provision, Section 177, allows any other state with smog problems to adopt the California vehicle standards, instead of the federal standards. Currently all four of our states and several other jurisdictions have done so. These “Section 177 states” do not need the EPA’s permission to adopt the California standards, but also may not deviate from what California has done as a nod to consistency and regularity. California and the Section 177 states comprise 35 percent of the U.S. automobile market.

EPA Administrator Pruitt has announced EPA’s decision to weaken the federal light-duty vehicle greenhouse gas emission standards for model years 2022 through 2025 – a change that will dramatically increase emissions, endanger public health and make driving more expensive. And it is clear from this same announcement that EPA is also considering revoking the California waiver to block California from setting stronger pollution standards on vehicles, and subsequently block us and other Section 177 states from adopting those California standards.

Suuberg is commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. He column was co-authored with the leaders of three other New England environmental agencies: Robert J. Klee, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, and Julie Moore, secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.