Biden Restores Cali’s Clean Car Authority

The Biden Administration is restoring California’s authority to set stricter standards for car emissions and fuel efficiency than the federal rules.

Under a provision of the federal Clean Air Act, historically smoggy California had been allowed to set its own stricter standards since the 1970s. That’s the one exception allowed to uniform nationwide standards. But as a part of that statutory compromise, states can choose between the national standards or California’s, and they have increasingly been opting for the latter. 

Today, at least 14 states plus D.C. go by the California rules. Together, they represent an enormous share of the vehicle sales market in the United States. As a practical matter, that means all the major auto manufacturers have for some time built their models for the entire American market to meet the stricter California standards, which are a major factor in driving the transition to clean electric vehicles.

In 2012, major car companies, environmental groups, and states reached a landmark deal on the details of these standards and transition timelines. After the Trump Administration took office, however, that most pro-polluter president in modern American history tried to undo this progress by revoking California’s special authorization to adopt stricter standards.

The issue was fought back and forth in the courts over the entire Trump presidency. Then-candidate Joe Biden promised to restore the California waiver if elected, and he is now fulfilling that promise. It’s another strong example of how elections have real consequences, and who we elect matters for our environment.

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