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March 18, 2022
States challenge EPA over tougher emissions standards

Texas Attorney General (AG) Ken Paxton led a 15-state coalition in filing a petition for review of the EPA’s final rule for tougher emissions standards in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals entitled “Revised 2023 and Later Model Year Light-Duty Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards.”

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“At a time when American gas prices are skyrocketing at the pump, and the Russia-Ukraine conflict shows again the absolute need for energy independence, Biden chooses to go to war against fossil fuels,” Paxton says in a press release issued by his office. “These severe new rules proposed by the EPA are not only unnecessary, but they will create a deliberate disadvantage to Texas and all states who are involved in the production of oil and gas. I will not allow this federal overreach to wreak havoc on our economy or the livelihoods of hard-working Texans.”

Texas is joined in the petition by Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah. Reuters says the State of Arizona filed its own petition for review with the D.C. Circuit. The rule is also being challenged by the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers Association and some soybean and corn growers’ associations.

Effective with the 2023 vehicle model years, the new rules regulate a 28.3% vehicle emissions reduction, and the Biden administration’s stated goal is for 50% of all new vehicles sold in 2030 to be plug-in hybrids or fully electric.

“The corn growers, a Valero Energy (VLO.N) subsidiary and other ethanol producers said the new EPA rules revising emission requirements through 2026 ‘effectively mandate the production and sale of electric cars rather than cars powered by internal combustion engines,’” Reuters continues.

Soybean groups and others state the EPA did not “adequately [consider] the vast greenhouse gas reduction benefits provided by renewable fuels,” adds Reuters.

Paxton and other opponents contend that the emissions standards exceed EPA authority because they favor one technology, electric vehicles, over others and violate constitutional separation of powers principles.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and Domestic Energy Producers Alliance filed a separate challenge, which states that the “EPA’s final rule attempts to establish stringent fleet-wide automobile emission standards with credit trading and enhanced credits for electric vehicles, but the agency lacks the legal authority to issue such a rule.”

The National Highway Transit Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the only regulatory agency with “the authority to issue fleet-wide average automobile standards,” the CEI news release adds.

These legal challenges were published 1 day after justices in the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) “appeared skeptical of the EPA's authority to issue sweeping regulations to reduce carbon emissions from power plants in a case that could undermine Biden's plans to tackle climate change,” Reuters notes.

Clean Air Act regulations

Section 7521 of the Clean Air Act (CAA) requires the EPA administrator to “prescribe (and from time-to-time revise) in accordance with the provisions of this section, standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class or classes of new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines, which in his judgment cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. Such standards shall be applicable to such vehicles and engines for their useful life (as determined under subsection (d), relating to useful life of vehicles for purposes of certification), whether such vehicles and engines are designed as complete systems or incorporate devices to prevent or control such pollution.”

The transportation industry is the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, comprising 29% of all emissions. Light-duty vehicles account for 17% of all U.S. GHG emissions and 58% of all transportation sector GHG emissions.

Support for tougher emissions standards

Twenty-two states, led by California, have filed a motion with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals urging the court to uphold the EPA’s final rule on tougher emissions. The other states joining the motion are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

In their motion, these “Movant-Intervenor States” remind the court that SCOTUS recognized states as having a “significant stake” in controlling vehicle emissions in Massachusetts v. EPA.

“If Petitioners prevail, harmful emissions that threaten public health and the environment will increase and those increases will be long-lasting, not only because of the longevity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but also because of the longevity of higher-emitting vehicles sold under any weakened standards,” states the motion. “Those increased emissions would exacerbate the consequential climate change harms Movant-Intervenor States are already experiencing.”

The states’ motion explains, at length, why they have standing and the injury that will be caused to the health and welfare of their citizens should tighter GHG emissions standards fail to be imposed. However, it does not provide the court with any response to the petitioners’ claims that the EPA has exceeded its authority in effectively regulating one technology above others and that the Agency has violated constitutional separation of powers principles.

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