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Biden administration is finalizing a waiver for California to set its own vehicle emissions standards

By Ella Nilsen, CNN

The Biden administration is finalizing a waiver to allow California to adopt its own, stricter vehicle emission standards, reversing yet another Trump-era rollback.

Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson Nick Conger confirmed the EPA’s final decision on the waiver is expected soon.

“We are working to finalize a decision on the California waiver and we expect to issue a decision in the near future,” Conger told CNN.

E&E News first reported that the Biden administration would issue the waiver soon.

In 2019, the Trump administration rolled back California’s decades-old waiver that allowed it to set its own air pollution standards. President Joe Biden’s administration announced last year that it would start the process of putting the waiver back in place.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, applauded the move.

“We welcome the Biden Administration’s expected move to recognize our authority to continue setting the pace with bold policies, investments and partnerships to clean the air and accelerate the global zero-emission vehicle transition,” Newsom said in a statement. “The restoration of our state’s decades-long Clean Air Act waiver will be a major victory for the environment, our economy and the health of Americans across the country in states that have chosen to adopt our pioneering standards.”

Outside environmental groups also said finalizing the waiver was an important step to restore state authority on emissions.

“States play an essential role in driving us toward a zero emissions transportation future,” said Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen in a statement. “By restoring California’s authority to set stronger clean car standards, the Biden administration is taking a critical step to protect public health and combat the climate crisis.”

California Air Resources Board member Daniel Sperling told CNN that the state won’t use its waiver to implement stronger standards for cars and light trucks and will instead use the Biden EPA’s recently adopted standards. The new federal fuel emissions, setting standards for those vehicles to 40 miles per gallon by the 2026 model year, were finalized in December.

Where the state will likely go farther than the federal government is in standards for heavy-duty trucks, Sperling said.

“California has decided it will go along with the federal greenhouse gas emissions standards for light-duty vehicles,” Sperling told CNN. “Where it’s diverging is these heavy-duty and light-duty zero-emission rules for cars and trucks.”

In 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order mandating that all vehicles sold in the state must be zero-emissions by 2035.

“This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change,” Newsom said in a news release at the time. “Californians shouldn’t have to worry if our cars are giving our kids asthma. Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse — and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”

Sperling said Newsom’s order includes new heavy-duty vehicles as well.

“The commitment is to zero-emission vehicles, all on-road vehicles,” Sperling told CNN.

This story has been updated with additional information and reaction.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that E&E News first reported the waiver would be reinstated soon.

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