The House of Representatives and State Attorneys General Take Aim at California’s EV Mandate

On Thursday evening, the House of Representatives voted in favor of legislation to effectively overturn California’s all-electric vehicle mandate, as Politico Pro reports:

The House approved Republican-backed legislation Thursday taking aim at efforts in California and other states to increase electric vehicle sales.

“The ‘Preserving Choice in Vehicle Purchases Act,’ H.R. 1435, from Rep. John Joyce (R-Pa.) would block EPA from giving California a waiver to ‘limit the sale or use of new motor vehicles with internal combustion engines.’”

The bill passed 222-190, with eight Democrats joining 214 Republicans in favor. The bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. John Joyce (R-PA), told Fox News Digital in an interview that the bill “is not anti-electric vehicle legislation.” Instead, the legislation is intended to protect consumer choice and ensure that the rest of the country isn’t governed by California’s restrictive mandates.

For decades, California has used a special provision of the Clean Air Act to seek waivers from the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the air pollutants that contribute to smog and poor air quality. But in recent years, California has used the waivers to regulate vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.  The Wall Street Journal editorial board recently explained how this application goes beyond the Clean Air Act’s intent:

“But Congress never intended to give California authority to regulate vehicle greenhouse gas emissions, which don’t contribute to smog and aren’t hazardous to human health. Federal law explicitly pre-empts states from imposing fuel-economy mandates, and regulating greenhouse- gas emissions does the same thing by the back door.”

Through this legal loophole, California is able to set stricter vehicle emissions targets than federal standards. California has used these waivers over a hundred times for programs that prescribe strict fuel emissions standards for vehicles sold in the state.

Most recently, California requested a waiver to require that by 2035, 100 percent of all new vehicle sales in the state are “zero emissions vehicles.” This amounts to a ban on new sales of gas-fueled vehicles, a move that lawmakers have described as an “abuse” of the state’s waiver authority and market power.

Lawmakers’ concerns stem from the extra-territorial nature of California’s all-electric mandate and its harmful impacts on consumer choice across the country. California’s standards have a tendency to become de facto national standards, both through market forces and through regulatory adoption.

First, vehicle manufacturers will have to invest in a wide array of costly technologies to sell into California’s market, which will drive up costs for consumers both in California and across the country. Steve Douglas, Vice President at the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, called California’s electric vehicle mandate “sweeping and transformative,” outlining the compliance challenges auto manufacturers will face:

“The success will require addressing charging and fueling infrastructure, vehicle and fuel costs, critical minerals and supply chain labor, and customer education.

“We will work to meet whatever you adopt, but again, they are extremely challenging, even in California, and in some states they may not be possible.”

Crucially, the cost increases incurred throughout the vehicle supply chain won’t just be borne by consumers in states adhering to California’s standards. The Wall Street Journal editorial board explains that drivers purchasing gas-powered cars far outside California’s borders will end up picking up the tab:

Vehicle manufacturers can meet mandates on EV sales only by raising prices on internal-combustion engine vehicles.

“That means Texans will have to pay more for gas-powered pickups to offset auto-maker losses on EV sales in California.” (Emphasis added)

Eighteen additional states so far have adopted California’s new “zero emissions” standards, representing nearly 40 percent of the national market for automobiles. Under the Clean Air Act, states are allowed to adopt California’s special standards rather than following federal law and regulation.

California’s standards have also been adopted at the federal level. In 2009, in the name of uniformity, President Obama set new, strict vehicle emissions standards that combined the Department of Transportation’s existing standards with California’s own rules. California’s waiver was later revoked during the Trump presidency and reinstated in 2021, when President Biden took office. The state quickly tightened vehicle emissions standards again – this time, amounting to an EV mandate – and shortly after, the Biden administration released federal tailpipe emissions rules that are remarkably similar to California’s.

The pattern is clear: California uses its waiver to establish emissions standards that are untenable nationally, other states use a Clean Air Act loophole to adopt those standards rather than following federal guidelines, and a progressive administration then creates a national standard based on California’s radical policies.

This system, which gives undue and undemocratic influence to a single state enacting outlier policy, is the subject of a legal challenge before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia this week, as E&E News reports:

“The D.C. Circuit on Friday will hear arguments from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, legal officers in 16 other Republican-led states and industry groups that California’s authority to set strict tailpipe emissions rules violates the Constitution, which conservative challengers say should treat all states equally.”

The case, Ohio v. EPA, is brought by seventeen states led by the Attorney General of Ohio and joined by several trade groups including the American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers and the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance. The petitioners to the U.S. Court of Appeals argue:

“The Clean Air Act allows the EPA to give California — and only California — a waiver. That waiver allows California — and only California — to set vehicle-emission standards more stringent than those imposed by the federal government. […] The waiver is unlawful, and this Court should set it aside.”

Bottom Line: From appliance standards, to special fuel blends, to tailpipe emission regulations, California has a long history of using their immense market power and special regulatory treatment to export anti-free market policies across America. Between legislation and litigation, the next few months may reign in California’s runaway ability to dictate climate and environmental policy nationally.

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