17 states push EPA to revoke California’s ability to set its own vehicle emission standards

Traffic on Highway 50 east of Sacramento.
Traffic on Highway 50 east of Sacramento.
(David Butow/For the Times)

The attorneys general of 17 states have asked a federal appeals court to reconsider an Environmental Protection Agency decision allowing California to set its own vehicle emission standards.

The policy was struck under President Trump and reinstated by the Biden administration earlier this year.

California’s vehicle emission standards are some of the toughest in the nation, and the 17 Republican attorneys general argue the EPA’s decision to let the Golden State set its own rules forces the rest of the country to follow suit. The state first developed the standards in 2004 but was barred from implementing them until 2009, when the EPA granted California permission to impose tough restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.


The states of Missouri, Ohio, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and West Virginia joined in a petition to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. They claim the EPA’s decision would require all states to adopt California’s strict vehicle emission standards for all new cars under the authority of the Clean Air Act.

With time running out to meet a decades-old air quality standard, local regulators are threatening to sue the federal government.

May 6, 2022

“The act simply leaves California with a slice of its sovereign authority that Congress withdraws from every other state,” West Virginia Atty. Gen. Patrick Morrisey of Virginia said in a statement.

Missouri Atty. Gen. Eric Schmitt said in a statement that if California is allowed to set nationwide standards, then manufacturing would become “astronomically expensive, and those additional costs are passed onto consumers.” He added that the Golden State’s standards are “oppressive.”

The EPA did not immediately respond to requests by The Times for comment on the petition, which was filed Thursday. The filing cites a March 2022 decision from EPA Administrator Michael Regan that granted California the ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles under the state’s Advanced Clean Cars program.

California first negotiated its own set of tougher emission standards with Congress during the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. The state has a carve-out agreement in the Clean Air Act but each year requires a waiver from the EPA. The 2009 update reinstated a 40-year interpretation of the act that was rescinded by the Bush administration and reinstated under the Obama administration.

In 2019, the EPA threatened to cut federal transportation funds to California for not submitting timely pollution-control plans. The open feud between the state and the Trump administration seemed to come to a head after California secretly negotiated a deal with four major automakers to voluntarily follow the state’s emission rules and increase fuel efficiency.


At the time, the EPA rescinded a decades-old rule that allowed California to set tougher-than-required car emissions standards than those required by federal regulators. After the waiver was rescinded, California sued the federal government, arguing the tougher standards were necessary to improve air quality in the state.

Three years later, under the Biden administration in 2022, the EPA reversed its hostile stance toward California’s vehicle emission standards and reinstated the waiver under the Clean Air Act. Multiple attorneys general called California’s special treatment unconstitutional, including many of the states that joined the recent petition.

In March, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Republican leader of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said, “President Biden’s strict auto emissions regulations are yet another example of this administration putting a radical rush-to-green regulatory regime ahead of restoring America’s energy dominance and leadership.”

Times staff writer Russ Mitchell contributed to this story.