Biden administration takes step toward allowing California to set its own tailpipe emissions standards

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The Biden administration on Thursday took a step toward allowing California to once again set its own vehicle emissions standards, an ability that was revoked under the Trump administration. 

The Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed a withdrawal of its part of a Trump-era rule that preempted states from setting their own standards.

Early next week, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to take action on its piece of the issue: deciding whether to restore a waiver that let California set its own standards. 


“The transportation sector is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases in our economy – which means it can and must be a big part of the climate solution,” Transportation Secretary Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegBiden administration takes step toward allowing California to set its own tailpipe emissions standards Republicans unveil 8 billion infrastructure plan DOT appoints chief science officer for first time in 40 years MORE said in a statement.

“This proposed rule would be an important step towards protecting public health and combating climate change,” he added. 

Not allowing California to set its own standards — which have been adopted in turn by more than a dozen other states — was considered a major climate rollback, as tighter tailpipe standards are expected to result in a greater share of electric or other lower-emission vehicles being sold. 

The move comes as the auto industry is becoming increasingly supportive of making their fleets cleaner, with some even pledging to eventually transition to all-electric cars. 

When it decided not to allow states to set their own standards, the Trump administration argued that it would promote regulatory freedom, certainty and economic growth. 

But environmentalists cheered the Biden administration’s move, saying it will reduce pollution. 

“Today’s proposal is a welcome step toward repealing the Trump administration’s unlawful attempt to override states’ rightful authority to protect people from harmful motor vehicle pollution,” Environmental Defense Fund senior attorney Alice Henderson said in a statement.