EPA Denies Waiver but does not dispute California program is better than CAFE

On Leap Day, EPA announced a giant leap of logic.  EPA finally released its explanation for denying California permission to implement its landmark Clean Cars program to cut global warming pollution from tailpipes. EPA’s claim that California does not meet the legal requirement of demonstrating a “compelling and extraordinary conditions” is legally and factually incorrect, as clearly explained by my colleague, David Doniger.

But one argument is conspicuous by its absence. When Administrator Johnson originally announced his waiver denial decision last December, he claimed that the California’s program is less effective at cutting global warming pollution than the new federal fuel economy standards. That’s flat wrong, and the California Air Resources Board (CARB), NRDC, and the New York Times called him on it.

CARB has continued to refine its analysis. The latest CARB analysis released on February 25th finds that on a cumulative basis, the California clean cars program provides the citizens of California twice as much greenhouse house gas benefits by 2020 as the federal fuel economy standards, for a total of 79 million metric tons of additional CO2 reductions. When the 12 additional states that have California’s program in regulation now are included, the additional cumulative CO2 benefits rise to 204 million metric tons, 89% higher more than the federal fuel economy standards.

These national benefits will increase when the five states that are in the process of adopting the California standards finalize their regulations. The benefits of the California program are slightly lower in states outside of California because others states have more light trucks which are held to a less stringent pollution standard in the California program.

The reason the California is better for reducing global warming pollution is simple: California standards are more stringent than the federal fuel economy standards. The federal 35 mpg fuel economy standard in 2020 reduces CO2 emissions from the average new vehicles by just over 30% from today’s vehicles.  But the average California new vehicle would be 43% cleaner than today’s vehicle under the Clean Car program. And according to another CARB analysis at $3.00/gallon gasoline (looking like a bargain now), a California Clean Car will save its driver more than $8,000 over a 200,000 mile lifetime, more than enough to offset the estimated $955 increase in cost from today’s car. 

Administrator Johnson can no longer hide behind the excuse that the California clean car standards are less effective than the federal fuel economy standards at cutting global warming pollution. That’s an open and shut case.