A bipartisan group of nearly 70 lawmakers are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to preserve a waiver allowing California to regulate its own vehicle efficiency standards, which the Trump administration has threatened to revoke.
In a letter sent to acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Tuesday, 68 House members urged the agency to halt plans they say could severely impact public health, Politico first reported Thursday.
Under the Clean Air Act, California has historically been allowed to set its own air pollution standards for new motor vehicles if granted an EPA waiver. The state’s stronger standards have been adopted by 12 states and the District of Columbia, which the letter’s signatories argue collectively represent more than 35 percent of the U.S. population and 1 in every 3 cars sold in the country.
The letter, shared with ThinkProgress, argues that “hundreds of thousands of premature deaths” have been prevented thanks to the stronger standards, along with “hundreds of millions of cases” of diseases relating to respiratory and cardiovascular issues.
“Thanks to these high standards, many states have significantly reduced pollutants like health-threatening smog and soot, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to help combat climate change,” the letter continues. “Automakers and their suppliers have risen to the challenge of achieving technology-driving standards.”
Last spring, the Trump administration announced it would seek to weaken fuel efficiency standards, an effort that has broadly been seen as an attack on California directly. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia promptly sued in May, arguing that the EPA’s efforts flew in violation of the Clean Air Act, along with the Administrative Procedure Act and the agency’s own clean car regulations.
But in August, the EPA nonetheless formally proposed freezing federal fuel economy standards at 2020 levels across the country.
Expressing disappointment in the Trump administration’s decision “to replace strong federal standards based on sound science,” the lawmakers argued in Tuesday’s letter that revoking California’s waiver would threaten air quality and undermine the right of states to protect their residents.
“The purpose of this letter is to convey our strong bipartisan request that you do not revoke California’s waiver or in any other way undermine states’ rights to protect their citizens from air pollution,” lawmakers conclude.
The letter’s signatories include several Republican members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC), which has attracted controversy and derision from green groups. Florida Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen joined New York Reps. Tom Reed and Elise Stefanik, along with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA) in signing.
A number of Republican CSC members, however, did not sign, including 10 from states that follow California’s vehicle standards.
Under the current standards the EPA is seeking to roll back, carbon emissions are expected to decrease by 6 billion tons. That in turn will greatly reduce oil costs and save consumers around $1.7 trillion in fuel expenses.
Widespread outrage has greeted the Trump administration’s intention to revoke California’s popular waiver. In addition to harming public health, experts and advocates have expressed concern that the rollback will benefit oil companies, many of whom have lobbied against harsher fuel standards over fear that they will cut into current oil consumption. Under the new rules, U.S. oil demand is expected to increase by 500,000 barrels per day.
Public comments on the proposal will close October 23. The EPA has said it expects to adopt the new fuel economy rules by March, although it seems lawmakers remain undeterred, despite the continuing outcry.
In another letter sent Wednesday to Wheeler and Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Delaware Sen. Tom Carper (D) similarly urged both officials to reverse course in their efforts to undermine Obama-era fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards. The senator noted that if a number of “significant deficiencies” within the current proposal are not remedied, it is likely that intensive litigation will follow.
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