TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced today that New Jersey has joined a federal lawsuit challenging a new Trump Administration rule that attempts to prevent states from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from cars.
The four-count lawsuit, led by California, was filed today in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. The lawsuit argues that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) new rule, which purports to invalidate state rules limiting vehicle greenhouse gas emissions, is unlawful and must be set aside.
“During a time when the federal government has refused to take action to address the threat of climate change, it is up to the States to take the lead in the fight to preserve our environment,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “I’m proud of New Jersey’s leadership in responsible environmental stewardship, and stand with our partner states who have shown the courage and foresight to enact responsible emissions rules to protect their residents from degraded air quality and the dangers of greenhouse gases. I thank Attorney General Grewal for leading New Jersey’s fight against the Trump Administration’s dangerous attempt to block states from protecting the health and safety of their residents.”
“It is bad enough that the Administration has turned a blind eye to climate change, but now our federal government is trying to stop states like New Jersey from tackling this existential threat,” said Attorney General Grewal. “For decades, states have regulated vehicle emissions to protect the health and safety of our residents, and federal law gives us the right to do so. Because we need these strong rules now more than ever, we’re taking the Administration to court to stop them.”
“This regressive federal action puts the nation's progress on combatting greenhouse gas emissions and other harmful air pollutants in reverse, and at a time when the United States should be leading,” said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe. “New Jersey is the country's most densely populated state and reducing greenhouse gases and air pollutants from car emissions is critical for our environment and public health—especially in our most vulnerable communities. Contrary to the principles of federalism, this action could limit the ability of states like New Jersey and California to set their own environmental standards. But in New Jersey, we are resolute and will continue to lead the way for other states in environmental protection.”
Under the Clean Air Act, California may set its own vehicle emissions standards that are at least as protective as the federal government’s standards, and through a waiver process EPA must allow it to do so unless EPA makes certain findings. Over the past 50 years, the EPA has granted 100 waivers to California, including as recently as 2013.
That rule is important to states like New Jersey, because federal law (Section 177 of the Clean Air Act) also allows states to adopt California’s more stringent federal emissions standards in lieu of federal requirements. States are not required to seek EPA approval before adopting California’s standards. These “Section 177 States” include New Jersey, which has long enforced the stricter California rules for vehicles sold here.
Thanks to these stronger vehicle emissions rules, the state and others who have adopted these more protective standards benefit from cleaner air, foster the development of emission control technology and Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs)—notably, electric vehicle technology and infrastructure—and have paved the way for stronger federal standards.
In particular, in January 2012, California adopted its comprehensive Advanced Clean Cars Program for cars and light duty trucks in model years 2017 through 2025. The program combines control of smog-causing pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. On its own, the California program would reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the state by approximately 14.4 million metric tons a year by 2025 and 25.2 million metric tons a year by 2030. When accounting for emissions savings from the Section 177 States, these emission reductions nearly triple.
Through today’s unlawful “Preemption Regulation,” NHTSA is attempting to declare the California greenhouse gas and ZEV standards preempted under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA). Indeed, if allowed to stand, the new rule would negate New Jersey’s authority to enforce strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new cars and light trucks.
But the new rule is fatally flawed because NHTSA here is relying on arguments that have been repeatedly rejected by federal courts. In particular, NHTSA is overstepping the authority granted to it by Congress and ignoring Congress’s careful and repeated preservation of the states’ longstanding authority to regulate vehicle missions as part of the Clean Air Act.
Indeed, the four-count lawsuit filed today seeks a declaration that the rule is unlawful because the federal agencies involved are acting outside their authority. In addition to the flaw described above, the rule adopts an unprecedented reading of the EPCA; flouts the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to assess the damage that the agency’s Preemption Rule will inflict on the environment and public health; acts arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to explain about-faces from the federal government’s previous positions or its reasons for acting; and fails to respect states’ authority to protect public health and welfare.
Participation in today’s lawsuit is the latest action by Attorney General Grewal and DEP to safeguard New Jersey’s environment and combat climate change. Among other things, Attorney General Grewal:
- Filed an ongoing lawsuit challenging EPA’s decision to weaken federal standards that restrict greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles;
- Filed an ongoing lawsuit challenging NHTSA’s decision to lessen the penalties for automakers who do not comply with federal fuel efficiency standards;
- Filed an ongoing lawsuit challenging EPA’s “Affordable Clean Energy” rule, which relaxes greenhouse gas emission standards and other important regulatory controls for existing coal-fired power plants;
- Challenged the Department of the Interior’s decision to let companies engage in seismic testing in the Atlantic despite harm to marine mammals, the first step towards offshore drilling – and got DOI to table its offshore drilling plans; and
- Sued EPA over its decision to suspend a rule limiting the production of super-polluting trucks known as “gliders” – another suit that led EPA to back down.
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