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California Framework Automakers Back EPA in Lawsuit

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Ford Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition | California Framework Automakers Back EPA in Lawsuit
California’s standards look to speed up EV adoption and cut emissions
Photo: Ford

Five automakers on Tuesday filed a motion backing the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to restore California’s right to set its own vehicle emissions standards. The “California Framework” companies — Ford, BMW, Volkswagen, Honda, and Volvo — issued a joint statement supporting the move in part as a matter of public health.


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“We urge the Court to affirm the EPA’s Waiver Decision and allow California to protect people’s health and combat climate change by setting clean air standards,” the statement reads. “Doing so would move us closer to a zero-emission transportation future and make a positive contribution to the global regulatory framework.”

The previous administration had revoked a waiver allowing California to set its own emission standards in 2019, but the EPA under President Biden reversed that decision in March. Current EPA Administrator Michael Regan called the revocation of the waiver a “legally dubious and an attack on the public’s health and wellbeing,” which would after all be very on-brand for the previous administration.

Ford, other automakers continue support for California framework

2022 Ford F-150 Lightning Charge Port Plugged In | California Framework Automakers Back EPA in Lawsuit
Ford recently launched its all-electric F-150 Lightning
Photo: Ford

In 2019, with a rollback of Obama-era rules impending, Ford, Honda, BMW, and Volkswagen reached an agreement with the state of California to uphold more stringent emissions standards through 2026. Volvo joined the compact in 2020. California Governor Gavin Newsom said that the framework — which called for a 3.7% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions — would achieve the same decrease in emissions as the Obama rules, but in five years rather than four.

Obama-era EPA regulations set out to reduce GHG emissions by 4.7% year-over-year through 2026. In contrast, the previous administration’s final standards fell to 1.5% year-over-year. Experts said that the dubiously named Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule would result in almost a billion additional metric tons of CO2 entering the atmosphere over the next several years.

Andrew Wheeler, the previous administration’s EPA chief and a career lobbyist who earned millions from coal companies, said that the approach to creating new rules — which at one point included an outright freeze of standards — was not influenced by oil companies. Experts theorized that the final rules would result in the consumption of 80 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2026.

“This has nothing to do with the oil industry. We’re not doing this for the oil industry. I’m not doing this for the oil industry,” said Wheeler in 2019, who was with unflinching certainty definitely doing it for the oil industry.

The SAFE Vehicles Rule also effectively revoked California’s waiver to set its own tailpipe emissions standards, which was granted under the Clean Air Act in 2013. The party that so often touts the value of states’ rights introduced the One National Program Rule, effectively blocking California and 13 states that had adopted the tougher standards from using their own rules and forcing them to comply with a federal standard.

California’s waiver reinstatement met with predictable legal challenge

In March, Newsom called the restoration of the Clean Air Act waiver by the EPA “a major victory for the environment, our economy, and the health of families across the country that comes at a pivotal moment underscoring the need to end our reliance on fossil fuels.” The reversal also paves the way for 17 other states to adopt California’s standards for tailpipe emissions and for 15 states to adopt its zero-emission vehicle targets.

In a move surprising basically no one, Republican attorneys general from 17 states filed a suit against the EPA in May saying that the reinstatement of the waiver gives California unfair sovereign authority. Many of the plaintiffs in the case are also involved in an upcoming Supreme Court case that seeks to weaken the EPA’s regulatory power. Those plaintiffs would also likely say that the suit is not motivated by the oil industry despite actual fossil fuel companies also being plaintiffs in the case.

Other automakers like General Motors, Toyota, and Stellantis have since abandoned their support of the previous administration’s move to bar California from setting its own standards.

Last December, the EPA put forth new rules targeting a 28.3% reduction in vehicle emissions by 2026, undoing the previous admin’s regressive policies. Red states are also of course challenging this decision, but California led a 22-state filing urging the U.S. Court of Appeals to uphold the rules.

Ford says that it and the other California Framework automakers are backing the EPA and its decision to reinstate California’s waiver because of its impact on climate change, health, and the auto industry.

“This is the right thing to do for people and the planet — but it also is critical to the automotive industry’s future success,” said Steven Croley, Ford’s chief policy officer and general counsel. “It moves us closer to a zero-emissions transportation future, and it creates regulatory stability and a level regulatory playing field for the entire industry.”

Ford holds fast to backing climate change-related issues

2022 Ford F-150 Lightnings on the assembly line at Rouge Electric Vehicle Center |
Production of the F-150 Lightning got underway in April
Photo: Ford

Ford is one of the major players in the industry-wide push for electrification, committing $50 billion to new EVs with an expected annual output of 2 million by 2026. Looking further ahead, Ford plans for half of its global volume to come from EVs like the Ford F-150 Lightning by 2030.

In terms of climate action, Ford was recently recognized as the leader in the auto and parts industries according to the 2022 America’s Most JUST Companies list. This and other accolades come from efforts including having a science-based target for limiting global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2035 and a plan for carbon neutrality by no later than 2050.

Ford is also the only full-line automaker working in accordance with the standards set forth by the Paris Climate Agreement. After the passage of the SAFE Vehicles Rule, Ford also committed to continue using California’s tougher emissions standards.

“Ford is proud to have been the only full-line American automaker to take the side of more aggressive emissions standards in 2019 and we’re the only one to do so today,” said Bob Hollycross, Ford’s chief sustainability, environment, and safety engineering officer.