Jilly Mehlman

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday announced a plan to revise Obama-era federal auto emissions standards, potentially lowering the standards used by Connecticut and a host of other states. But Connecticut officials said they will work hard to protect the state’s more stringent regulations.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in an April 2 press release that the EPA would change regulations on emissions for cars and light trucks of model years 2022-2025 and initiate a review of the “California waiver” – a section of the Clean Air Act that allows California and about a dozen other states with comparably poor air quality, including Connecticut, to impose stricter auto emissions regulations than the federal government’s. State officials have been critical of this plan, especially because revoking the waiver would undo Connecticut’s current policy. According to officials, lowering auto emissions standards would slow efforts to combat climate change and increase the health risks caused by smog and other air pollutants.

“While not unexpected, the EPA administrator’s announcement is deeply disappointing,”

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said in a statement. “We will not stand idly by while this administration attempts to dismantle clean air protections designed to protect the health and well-being of Connecticut residents.”

Jepsen joined several other states in sending two separate letters to Pruitt in 2017 — one in June and the other in October — stating that lowering the current auto emissions standards would be ill-advised.

Although in his own statement Jepsen did not specify what kind of action the state may take to safeguard its protections, the multi-state June letter suggested that a legal battle is not out of the question.cq

“If you seek to roll back these important standards, we intend to pursue appropriate legal action to defend them in court,” the letter stated.

In his statement, Jepsen said the Connecticut Attorney General’s office will continue to be in regular contact with other states as it coordinates a response to the EPA’s planned actions.

Governor Malloy voiced similar solidarity in an April 2 press release, saying that Connecticut would continue to work with California and “other like-minded states” to safeguard protections under the federal Clean Air Act.

Although auto emissions are regulated at the national and state levels, local leaders have also expressed disappointment about Pruitt’s announcement. New Haven Mayor Toni Harp joined a number of state and city leaders from across the country in a letter to the EPA in support of the current clean car standards.

“Mayor Harp feels that any rollback of clean air standards would be contrary to what she and others have been working toward in terms of reducing the overall carbon footprint of the city and those who live and work and study here,” mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer told the News.

Eric Brown, senior counsel at Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said he believes “rollback” does not quite accurately describe the EPA’s plan.

Brown said the Connecticut Business and Industry Association is generally supportive of efforts to improve emissions standards given their significant impact on air quality. But he also said there is an economic need to introduce regulations gradually and review them regularly.

You read a lot of things that make it sound like they’re throwing the whole thing [emissions standards] in the trash can,” Brown said. “But it’s really just an adjustment.”

The EPA has not announced the details of revisions it plans to make — the agency has not proposed any specific rule changes or issued any technical studies, according to Paul Farrell, assistant director of air planning at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

But Farrell was skeptical of the idea that the revisions would be anything less than a rollback.

“EPA’s announcement was troubling as it clearly signals their intent to roll back the standards and perhaps even the California waiver under the federal Clean Air Act,” he said.

Farrell also criticized the announcement for mischaracterizing the California waiver by suggesting that California dictates the national standards. In the April 2 announcement, Pruitt said, “Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country.”  Farrell explained that under current policy, states can choose to comply either with the national standards or California’s more stringent ones.

The federal Clean Air Act was first adopted in 1963, but since then several amendments have been made, including in 1970, 1977 and 1990.

Max Graham | max.s.graham@yale.edu