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Join our work today to help us build a thriving and just clean energy future. 

Three Reasons Why EPA Must Approve California’s Vehicle Emissions Waiver

Vehicles make up the largest share of emissions in the country. EPA must allow California to set ambitious clean truck regulations to keep the nation on a path to achieving President Biden’s climate commitments.

Cars sitting in traffic

Since 1970, California has played a leading role in driving America towards cleaner, more efficient vehicles thanks to the Clean Air Act’s provision allowing California to set its own stronger standards for vehicle emissions. But now, the EPA is reportedly considering denying California’s waiver for two key regulations—a move that would fly in the face of decades of precedent and President Biden’s own commitments.

With vehicles making up the largest share of emissions in the country, EPA must allow California to set ambitious clean truck regulations to keep the nation on a path to achieving President Biden’s climate commitments. 

1. California’s Vehicle Emissions Waiver Will Push Other States to Reduce Emissions from Cars and Trucks 

For 50 years, the Clean Air Act has been a key federal tool for reducing emissions from cars and trucks. Yet one state continues to set the national standard for reducing vehicle pollution: California. The Clean Air Act was written with this in mind, giving the Golden State a waiver authority to set its own standards for emissions reduction from cars and trucks. The California standards are always more aggressive than the national standard, and once EPA approves California’s stronger regulations, other states can commit to driving down vehicle emissions at California’s pace. Currently, 13 other states including Washington D.C. have signed on to some portion of California’s vehicle emissions standards to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.

In the last five decades, every Democratic administration has approved California’s vehicle waiver. But the trucking industry is intervening to try  to break this record. Truck manufacturers sued EPA to encourage the administration to partially deny the waiver. This would stall the onset of two California clean trucks regulations, the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) Rule and the Omnibus Low Nox Regulations. The ACT rule would require manufacturers to increase zero-emissions truck sales 40-75 percent by 2035, while the Omnibus rule would require a 90 percent decrease in nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 2027. 

Denying California’s waiver for these two rules would set back state climate targets for California and the five other states signed on to the Advanced Clean Trucks rule. Although this is just a fraction of states, they make up 20 percent of the national truck fleet. And the market will continue to grow as four additional states are considering adopting the ACT rule. Even states that are not currently committed to California’s tailpipe standards have expressed support for California’s waiver authority, signaling to heavy-duty truck manufacturers that there is a demand for clean vehicles. With the consistent and growing demand for electric heavy-duty vehicles, truck manufacturers should be jumping at the opportunity, rather than bullying Americans out of clean air. 

2. California’s Vehicle Emissions Waiver Will Reduce Deadly Tailpipe Pollution  

Vehicle emissions are the largest source of greenhouse gases in the country and they are a leading source of deadly pollution like nitrogen oxides and particulate matter which cause lung and heart illnesses, and even premature death. Heavy duty trucks only make up 10 percent of the vehicles on the road, but are the largest mobile source of nitrogen oxides, and account for nearly a third of all vehicle pollution. California’s standards for Advanced Clean Trucks and Omnibus Low Nox regulations would speed up the number of clean trucks on the road, preventing health impacts caused by tailpipe pollution. 

The negative health outcomes from tailpipe pollution don't affect all communities equally. Due to decades of discriminatory housing and transportation policies, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities are closer to highways and roads with heavy duty vehicle traffic. These vulnerable communities experience up to three times more vehicle pollution than whiter and wealthier communities. Denying California’s waiver would delay the number of clean trucks on the road, unnecessarily continuing to pollute these overburdened communities. 

The clean truck rules that would be implemented with California’s vehicle waiver authority provide a common-sense solution to reducing deadly tailpipe pollution by phasing in zero emissions vehicles. Zero emission heavy duty vehicle technology is already available, and many leading automakers have already committed to getting more electric medium and heavy-duty vehicles on the road in coming years. Approving California’s waiver will provide clarity for manufacturers that electrification is the future of all vehicles. And given that heavy duty vehicles have a 15-year lifespan, it's critical that trucks purchased in the next few years are electric because they will determine how clean our air will be a decade from now. We don't have a decade to wait for clean air. 

Tell EPA: Grant California’s Full Waiver Authority for Vehicle Emissions

Tell EPA to approve California’s full vehicle emissions waiver authority today! Enter your information below and we'll send you to an official comment form. 


3. California’s Vehicle Emissions Waiver Will Support Environmental Justice Communities 

Setting California’s clean truck rules back by two years will make emissions targets unrealistic for many states, and the Biden administration. In 2020, 15 states and D.C. pledged that 30 percent of all new heavy and medium duty vehicles would be electric by 2030. Without jump starting this transition through California’s clean truck rules, these states will miss the mark. And in the absence of ambitious state leadership to cut emissions from the largest polluting sector, the administration’s climate targets will fall farther out of reach. 

The truth is, the EPA needs California to set the standard for emissions reductions because the EPA’s regulations alone don't go far enough to protect Americans. EPA’s updated proposal for heavy duty vehicles, released earlier this year, will still leave many states out of compliance with national air quality standards. And since California is the only state with waiver authority, every state will be stalled in adopting clean trucks while vulnerable communities continue to suffer from tailpipe pollution. 

In California, Black people are exposed to 43 percent more vehicle pollution than their white counterparts, while in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic people of color breathe in 66 percent more vehicle pollution than white residents. Denying California’s waiver means denying breathable air for Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities across the country. 

Americans should not be forced to wait two more years for cleaner air when the technology is available. Frontline communities cannot continue to be sacrifice zones while manufacturers drag their feet. The stakes are just too high.