Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is granting California’s request for a waiver that would allow the state to enforce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for new motor vehicles, beginning with the current model year.

The EPA said that using the law and science as its guide, it took the action to tackle air pollution and protect human health.

“This decision puts the law and science first,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “After review of the scientific findings, and another comprehensive round of public engagement, I have decided that this is the appropriate course under the law. This waiver is consistent with the Clean Air Act as it’s been used for the last 40 years and supports the prerogatives of the 13 states and the District of Columbia who have opted to follow California’s lead.”

The 13 states that have adopted the California Clean Car standards are Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. British Columbia and Manitoba are among the provinces that have stated they will also adopt the standards.

California first made a waiver request in December 2005, which was denied in March 2008. The decision was based on an interpretation of the Clean Air Act that found that the state did not have a need for its own GHG emission standards to meet “compelling and extraordinary conditions.”

In January, President Obama directed the EPA to assess the appropriateness of denying the waiver. In June, the government announced a first-ever national policy aimed at both increasing fuel economy and reducing GHG pollution for all new cars and trucks sold in the U.S., covering model years 2012 to 2016. When the national program takes effect, California has committed to allowing automakers who show compliance with the national program to also be deemed in compliance with state requirements.

In granting the waiver request, the EPA found that California continues to have a need for its motor vehicle emissions program, including the GHG standards, and that the California program meets legal requirements regarding the protectiveness of public health and welfare, as well as technological feasibility.

The Clean Air Act gives the EPA authority to allow California to adopt its own emission standards for new motor vehicles due to the seriousness of the state’s air pollution challenges. The government agency has a long-standing history of granting waivers to the state.

The decision is not without controversy; the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) issued a statement saying, “EPA’s decision to reverse its 2008 denial of California’s request for a pre-emption waiver is sadly a triumph of politics over good common sense.”

NADA said that while California has stated its willingness to conform its rules to the forthcoming national program, it is concerned that the waiver risks a series of negative results if conformity does not occur, including the potential for triple regulation of major manufacturers such as General Motors and Toyota.

“Moreover, with its action today, the Obama administration has effectively ceded the long-term setting of national fuel economy standards to unelected California regulators,” said John McEleney, chairman of NADA. “The administration has now created the framework for three fuel economy standards, administered by three different agencies and under three different sets of rules. As a result, consumers in the future risk facing significantly reduced new-vehicle choices and substantially higher new-vehicle prices.”

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