NJ Cleanup of Car Emissions Put at Risk as Feds Exit California Talks

Tom Johnson | February 22, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Decision by Trump administration to end negotiations over California’s fuel-efficiency standards likely will go to court, delaying New Jersey’s own efforts to curb emissions

tailpipe emissions smog
The Trump administration yesterday ended talks with California over the state’s stricter standards for fuel-efficient vehicles, jeopardizing New Jersey’s own efforts to curb climate-changing emissions from cars.

In a joint statement from the White House, Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency, the administration announced it was discontinuing discussions with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on the issue and would move ahead with its own proposal on fuel economy and tailpipe emission standards.

The decision is likely to increase prospects the issue will wind up being decided by the courts where New Jersey and 20 other states already have challenged the administration’s rollback of an Obama-era rule to clamp down on carbon pollution from vehicles.

For New Jersey, that may mean delaying efforts to reduce the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions — the transportation sector. New Jersey and other states have opted to follow California’s more stringent (than federal) fuel efficiency and tailpipe standards, a policy the EPA has threatened to revoke.

Blaming the Californians

In announcing the decision, the Trump administration blamed the California agency for not putting forward a “productive alternative’’ since it proposed its rule last year. The administration contended its proposal would save motorists hundreds of millions of dollars by lowering costs for new cars.

“Accordingly, the administration is moving forward to finalize a rule later this year with the goal of promoting safer, cleaner, and more affordable vehicles,’’ the statement said.

The action drew criticism from NESCAUM, an association of air-quality agencies from eight states in the Northeast, including New Jersey.

“Given the unmistakable evidence that impacts from a changing climate are worsening — from record-breaking heat waves, to mega-forest fires, to extreme hurricanes — walking back from what is effectively the federal government’s biggest climate mitigation program poses a real threat to public health and welfare,’’ said Paul Miller, executive director of NESCAUM.

The action came a day after more than 200 lawmakers across the country issued a letter calling on automakers to oppose the rollback of the Obama standards, which they initially backed. Thirteen states, and Washington D.C., have joined California in adopting the more stringent standards, representing 118 million people and over one-third of the nation’s auto market.

Extra 2.2 billion metric tons of emissions

Sen. Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex), the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, joined fellow legislators in opposing the rollback.

“Under the clean car standards, New Jersey has made significant strides toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially in the transportation sector, a formidable task given our status as a corridor state and our major transportation hubs,’’ Diegnan said.

According to the legislators’ letter, the Trump administration’s proposal will result in an additional 2.2 billion metric tons of global-warming emissions by 2040.

In New Jersey, clean-energy advocates have been frustrated over what they view as the state’s lackluster efforts to clamp down on pollution from the transportation sector. Efforts to promote electric vehicles have lagged behind other states, particularly in building the infrastructure for recharging vehicles, environmentalists have said.

“This is shameful,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, which also is challenging the rollback of the Obama standards. “This is a direct attack on our lungs, as well as an attack on our wallets,’’ he said. “Buying more fuel-efficient can save consumers money.’’