California Purchasing Plan to Flex Purchasing Power: Despite Trump Administration Effort, could California’s plan help other states remain on track to reduce emissions and hurt manufacturers who oppose it?

January 14, 2020

The Clean Air Act (“CAA”) of 1963 allows for any State which had adopted emission standards for new motor vehicles, prior to the enactment of the CAA, to seek a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) of the federal new motor vehicle emissions standard, as long as the State’s standards were “at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable Federal Standards.” California was the only state with such a standard in place at the time, and as such has been granted waiver for all new vehicle emissions since model year 1969. Additionally, Section 177 of the CAA allows any State to adopt standards identical to California’s standard. To date thirteen states have adopted such identical standards.

California’s waivers do not expire, but can be “superseded by new waiver approving more stringent standards.” However, until 2019, no waiver for exemption for California had ever been revoked.

In September of 2019, the EPA announced that California’s 2013 waiver will be revoked. Two days later, California and twenty-two other states have brought suit against the Trump administration challenging its decision. Several major car manufacturers, some of whom initially sided with California, including Toyota USA and General Motors, support the EPA revocation as part of President Trump’s “One National Program Rule.”

On November 15, 2019, the state of California took its commitment to low vehicle emissions a step further in the face of its waiver revoke by announcing its “new purchasing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the State’s vehicle fleet.” The state of California’s new release states that the California Department of General Services “will prohibit purchasing by state agencies of any sedans solely powered by an internal combustion engine, with exemptions for certain public safety vehicles,” and “will require state agencies, starting on January 1, 2020, to only purchase vehicles from Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) that recognize [California’s] authority to set greenhouse gas and zero emission vehicle standards, and which have committed to continuing stringent emissions reduction goals for their fleets.” 

The state of California has approximately 40,000 vehicles, about 8,400 of which are sedans. Thus far, only Ford, Volkswagen, Honda and BMW have decided to support California, as oppose to the EPA, and endorse the stricter emissions standards.

What does this signal for the nation?

California’s new vehicle purchasing policy signals to the states that have adopted its standards, and the rest of the country, that no matter what the Trump administration or courts decide, California is committed to meeting its energy and environmental goals. California, like several states, is committed to remaining in compliance with the goals set under the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, despite President Trumps formal withdrawal from the agreement. California’s new vehicle purchasing policy is way for the state to flex its purchasing power and remain committed to its sustainability goals in the face of a federal administration that does not support measures to create a cleaner, healthier Earth and atmosphere. This could encourage other states to remain committed to their emissions goals and environmental policies.

By speaking out against California’s waiver and remaining in opposition to a high emission standard, Toyota USA, GM and the other car manufacturers may be handing over one of the nation’s largest public vehicle fleets to four manufacturers. California’s policy tells those manufacturers who oppose cleaner air through lower emission that they will end up on the “wrong wide of history,” and that the nation and consumers are watching. In addition to losing the state’s business, these manufacturers may even isolate customers, nationwide, who care about the environment and want to support socially-minded businesses. 

One could argue that the Trump administration revoked California as some sort of dig at the state’s progressive agenda. This of course would not permitted under the CAA, which states that the EPA “shall” grant California’s waiver unless its proposed standard is “arbitrary and capricious,” not consistent with the CAA, or the state “does not need such State standards to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions.” The courts will decide if one of these exceptions has indeed been met. However, President Trump has not been shy about his dislike of California’s progressive policy, especially as it pertains to climate change, and his intention to do away with as much environmental policy as he can. 

Regardless, California’s new vehicle purchase policy signals that the state will act within its authority to do its part to reduce vehicle emissions, and carry out the nation’s want for combatting climate change. One can imagine a situation in which President Trump does not win reelection and the proceeding administration reinstates California’s waiver, or implements a national new motor vehicle emissions standard that is more strict than any previously proposed standard.

Jasmine B. Washington 

January 14, 2020