The Clean Air Act’s special exemption for California means the state can set its own, stricter standards for tailpipe emissions. (It can’t, however, make its own fuel economy rules — that’s under a different federal act for which California has no special pass.)
Even so, California still needs to ask the EPA for a waiver whenever it wants to make new rules for vehicle exhaust or change existing rules on the books. The state has received dozens of these waivers, covering everything from refrigerated truck trailers to ships at berth in California ports.
In 2002, California took the lead again: it passed a law calling for major cuts to greenhouse gases in tailpipe emissions from passenger vehicles. Car makers and dealerships sued. And when the air board applied for a waiver — the first to address climate change — President George W. Bush’s EPA took years before ultimately denying the request. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office called the outright denial a first.
The Bush EPA’s rationale? That greenhouse gases and climate change were global issues, not ones specific to California. Now, with climate change worsening California’s wildfires, the state is still recovering from its worst fire year on record as it braces for dangerous months ahead. And the fight over California’s power to tackle climate change continues.