News | November 9, 2021

Proposed rules advance cleaner cars—but more needed to undo Trump rollbacks

The Biden administration has unveiled a suite of actions to undo Trump administration rollbacks of tailpipe greenhouse gas pollution standards and fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles.

“These proposals are important steps,” said SELC Staff Attorney Carroll Courtenay, “but stronger action is needed in the face of the climate crisis, and to protect public health and advance equity.”

The Trump rule had two parts, collectively called the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule. In the first part, known as the SAFE-1 Rule, the Environmental Protection Agency rescinded a waiver under the federal Clean Air Act that allows California to implement tailpipe GHG emissions standards that are stricter than federal standards. EPA also prevented other states from adopting these stronger standards. The second part, known as the SAFE-2 Rule, decreased the Obama-era federal tailpipe GHG emissions standards set by EPA and the fuel economy standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

These rollbacks were a major step back for efforts to address climate change, since the transportation sector is the largest source of GHG emissions nationally—as well as in all but one state in the South—and passenger vehicles account for most of that pollution.

The Biden administration announced its intention to review these rollbacks on its first day in office, and has since begun to release proposals to reverse some of the damage caused by the Trump rules. 

That’s why SELC weighed in on each of these proposed actions.

We’ll watch these proposals closely as they move through the regulatory process and continue to advocate for stronger policies that can meet the climate crisis and accelerate the shift to cleaner vehicles in our region.

Senior Attorney Trip Pollard, Leader of SELC’s Land and Community Program

First, we urged EPA to rescind the SAFE-1 Rule, arguing that the Trump EPA unlawfully withdrew California’s waiver and wrongly interpreted the Clean Air Act to restrict the California emission standards other states are permitted to adopt. States are in the best position to know which standards—the federal standards or the stronger California standards—are in the best interest of their residents and their environment. While it’s important that all eligible states be allowed to adopt stronger standards, it is especially important for Virginia since it became the first state in the South to pass Clean Cars legislation earlier this year.

Next, we called for EPA to adopt stronger federal tailpipe GHG emissions standards and to eliminate potential loopholes that could dilute the standards. While the proposed rule would be about 10% more stringent for model year 2023 vehicles, and then increase in stringency by about 5% annually for model years 2024 to 2026, EPA analyzed an even stronger alternative that would cut emissions closer to what would have occurred without the Trump rollback. EPA’s analysis shows this stricter alternative would provide much greater net benefits than the current proposal, and that auto manufacturers can meet the more stringent standards.

Finally, NHTSA is proposing to increase fuel economy standards 8% per year for model years 2024 through 2026. We’re urging it to instead adopt an alternative that would increase these standards by at least 10% each year, resulting in total fuel savings similar to what would have been achieved without the Trump rule. Stronger standards will do more to conserve energy, cut carbon pollution, and give consumers what they want—cars that go farther on less fuel and emit less pollution.

“We’ll watch these proposals closely as they move through the regulatory process,” said Trip Pollard, leader of SELC’s Land and Community Program, “and continue to advocate for stronger policies that can meet the climate crisis and accelerate the shift to cleaner vehicles in our region.”