The Biden administration announced Thursday a first move aimed at restoring states’ rights to follow more stringent California vehicle emissions rules—and to set electric vehicle mandates. 

The first procedural step comes in the form of a proposal issued by the National Highway Traffic Administration, rescinding a series of rules issued in 2019 and 2020 by the Trump administration, aimed at revoking California’s Clean Air Act waiver.

In a NHTSA proposal, the agency proposes to repeal the first part of Trump-era arguments justifying the repeal of the waiver as in conflict with the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, one of the early federal legislative acts regarding vehicle efficiency. 

After this, the EPA is expected to soon issue a proposal for the reinstatement of California’s Clean Air Act waiver that allows the state to set its own terms for those standards. 

Obama CAFE standards benefits for 2025

Obama CAFE standards benefits for 2025

Under the so-called SAFE standards, the EPA set CO2 standards starting with the 2021 model year, while the NHTSA set new corporate average fuel economy standards for model years 2022 through 2026. Those standards required a 1.5% annual improvement in fleet average, as opposed to the 5% annual increases that were enacted for this same period by the Obama administration. 

There’s a lot of damage to undo. A One National Program Rule from the Trump administration in September 2019 granted NHTSA and the U.S. Department of Transportation the right to set national fuel economy standards and preempt California and other states. Then the Final Rule issued in March 2020 laid out the flawed framework and withdrew California’s Clean Air Act waiver. 

California is currently developing standards for 2025 on, as it decides on Advanced Clean Fleets framework for medium- and heavy-duty trucks and appears poised—barring a funding debate—to spend $1.5 billion on a combination of clean transportation programs and charging infrastructure. The state remains focused on a 2035 target for the end of new gasoline vehicle sales

Biden aims to make federal fleet all-electric

Biden aims to make federal fleet all-electric

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of 12 governors petitioned the Biden administration to restore the state authority, along with the establishment of a 2035 target for all passenger vehicles and light trucks to be zero-emission, with a coordinated 2045 policy target for larger trucks. 

Biden also on Thursday pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2030, which will likely require a strong, all-of-the-above process to accomplish. 

According to recent surveys from Consumer Reports, 94% of consumers say fuel economy is important when buying a new vehicle, and 73% want the government to set strong fuel economy standards. 

Those tighter new standards are due to be revealed by July, current EPA administrator Michael Regan recently said.