U.S. Appeals Court Upholds California’s Clean Air Act Waiver

The ruling allows the state to set zero-emission vehicle sales requirements.

April 11, 2024

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued its ruling on Ohio vs. EPA and upheld EPA’s decision to reinstate California’s preemption waiver under the Clean Air Act for its Advanced Clean Car I program. The decision will allow California to move ahead with its plan to set zero-emission vehicle sales requirements and greenhouse gas emission standards.

The Ohio Attorney General and 16 other state attorney generals, along with oil and gas, ethanol and fuel retailing interests, filed a lawsuit to challenge a Clean Air Act waiver that California is using to mandate a transition to electric vehicles. In their arguments, they expressed concerns that this waiver exceeded the statutory authority under the Clean Air Act that provides waiver authority for California pertaining to air pollution standards, not technology mandates.

In its decision, the court stated that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the waiver and did not demonstrate that automobile manufacturers would change their production plans or prices if the court vacated EPA’s waiver.

In response to the decision, Doug Kantor, general counsel for NACS, commented, "Policies that mandate a technology rather than push all technologies for better outcomes reduce innovation and produce worse results for the environment and the economy. We hope that subsequent consideration by the courts recognizes this truth and requires a better approach from regulators."

In 2022, the Biden administration restored California’s authority to implement its own greenhouse gas emission standards and zero-emission vehicle sales mandate and allowed other states to adopt California’s stricter standards in lieu of federal standards, which had been removed by the Trump administration. In 2019, the Trump administration revoked California’s Clean Air Act waiver for its Advanced Clean Car program that allowed the state to set its own vehicle emission standards, which EPA granted in 2013 under the Obama administration.