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California’s Clean Car Standards

Under the Clean Air Act, California has a special role as an innovator and leader in the area of motor vehicle emission regulations. Congress authorized California – and only California – to adopt motor vehicle emission standards that are stricter than federal requirements. Before California can enforce its standards, however, it must obtain permission (a "waiver") from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Once EPA grants the waiver, other states may adopt California’s standards.

Image of a car exhaust tip.

In 2002, California set state standards for the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) from motor vehicles (AB 1493, commonly known as the “Pavley” law). In December, 2005, California applied to EPA for a waiver to implement its standards. The Bush Administration's EPA delayed action on California's request for over two years, finally denying it in March 2008 without any reasonable basis. On the change of Administration, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) requested that EPA reconsider its denial, and in June 2009, EPA granted the waiver. Read the waiver decision, pdf.

Once EPA granted the waiver, the automobile industry filed numerous lawsuits across the country. Because of the Attorney General’s work, and that of many other attorneys general across the nation, the industry lost every case.

California’s Pavley standards took effect for model years starting in 2009 to 2016. These standards will result in approximately a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions through 2016 in California, and substantial additional reductions in other states. In addition, the standards will give consumers more choices, as manufacturers add technologies to cars and trucks that increase efficiency, decrease air conditioning leakage, and allow for the use of alternative fuels.

In January 2012 the State, through CARB, adopted its comprehensive Advanced Clean Car Program for model years 2017 through 2025. The program combines the control of smog-causing pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions into a single coordinated package of standards. CARB's work will guarantee that the automobile industry must continue to innovate, benefitting consumers and the environment.

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