Traffic on a smoggy day in Los Angeles
Traffic on a smoggy day in Los Angeles. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday restored California’s ability to set its own zero-emission vehicle sales mandate and tailpipe emissions limits, reversing a 2019 decision by then-President Donald Trump.

The agency said it was finalizing a decision to reinstate a waiver under the Clear Air Act to California that was first awarded in 2013.

“With today’s action, we reinstate an approach that for years has helped advance clean technologies and cut air pollution for people not just in California, but for the U.S. as a whole,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.

The EPA is also rejecting a Trump-era decision to prohibit other states from adopting the California tailpipe emission standards.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the move remedies the Trump administration’s “groundless ​attack on a critical program that is based on California’s decades ​of experience setting emissions standards as authorized by law.”

The California Air Resources Board said on Tuesday it plans to significantly increase electric vehicle requirements by 2030 as the state moves to phase out the sale of gasoline-powered, light-duty vehicles by 2035.

President Joe Biden has set a goal of 50% of new-vehicle sales being electric or plug-in electric, but has not endorsed a date to phase out gasoline-vehicle sales.

In a draft document in December, the California regulator said it aimed to reach 61% of new sales as zero-emission models by 2030. A revised proposal, which is still under staff review, would aim for 68% new zero-emission vehicles in 2030, 76% in 2031, and 100% in 2035, a board spokesman told Reuters.

Sixteen states, including New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well as the District of Columbia, have adopted California’s tailpipe emissions rules and 13 are following its zero-emission vehicle rules.

Environmental groups praised the action.

Biden noted on Wednesday that General Motors in November 2020 withdrew its support for Trump’s effort to bar California emissions rules.

GM said Wednesday it shares California’s greenhouse gas emission “reduction goals and vision for an all-electric future” and would study the waiver.

In December, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration separately rescinded Trump’s action seeking to bar California from setting vehicle rules conflicting with U.S. authority to set Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements.

The EPA in December finalized new vehicle emissions rules restoring targets undone by Trump and requiring a 28.3% reduction in vehicle emissions through 2026.