In 2006, this well-settled and successful structure was challenged when California decided that it would regulate carbon dioxide from vehicle tailpipes to combat global warming and asked EPA for a waiver on that pollutant. The Bush Administration caused an uproar when, for the first time ever, it refused to grant California a waiver. The Administration cited the theory that global warming is not a local pollution problem, although the Clean Air Act itself does not make that distinction. California sued.
Before the suit was settled, President Obama came to office and did three things. He bailed out the auto industry that had collapsed in the Great Recession using your tax dollars. He granted California the waiver it sought to control global warming pollution. And then he worked with the states and the auto industry to adopt a unified national standard for global warming pollutants from cars and trucks extending through 2025, doubling fuel economy from 27 mpg to 54 mpg, which will save consumers billions of dollars at the pump now and far into the future.
Things have changed some since those standards were first proposed in 2009. Gasoline prices have dropped dramatically, so Americans are buying bigger cars. After a steep decline during the Recession, the number of miles we drive has also started to increase. While global warming emissions in the electric power sector have dropped dramatically over this period due to renewable energy investments and cheap natural gas, transportation emissions are growing. For the first time since 1979, transportation emissions exceeded emissions from the power sector last year. They are now our number one global warming problem. And they are on a path to get worse.
In the quest for jobs, the Trump Administration is about to reconsider the fuel economy standards that President Obama adopted. As this happens, there are two things for the rest of us to watch. First, does the automobile industry continue to produce miraculous new technologies that meet the most important environment challenges of each new era? Or do they take advantage of the political situation to retreat from a new challenge? It is one thing to make a minor midterm adjustment. It is another to abandon important national goals.
And second, will California and its partner states be allowed to continue in their role driving that technology by requiring their consumers to buy the cleanest cars the auto industry knows how to make? It is a big market—135 million Americans live in those states. And by the way, foreign automakers have to meet the same standards, so there is no negative impact on U.S. jobs in the clean car states.
It would be one of the deepest ironies of this time, if the new Administrator of the EPA—coming to office promising to let the states lead on environmental protections—undermined the California waiver, the most successful example in all of environmental law for letting states take the lead.