California Motor Vehicle Standards and Federalism: Lessons for the European Union

Ann E. Carlson

One of California's most important environmental contributions over the past four decades has been in developing increasingly stringent motor vehicle emissions standards. Most recently, the state has used special authority it is granted by the federal Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, though that authority is under significant legal attack both by the federal government and by auto manufacturers. The standard view of California 's regulatory leadership in this area is that it has exercised its leadership largely independent from the federal government. Federal law is most obviously important to California in explicitly authorizing the state to issue mobile source standards different from the federal standards while preempting all other 49 states from regulating in this area. Federal law has helped create California as an environmental leader despite conventional wisdom to the contrary. Finally, in providing California with superregulator status, the federal government has created a state laboratory for regulatory experimentalism that it has borrowed from regularly in adopting its own standards. If the EU and its regulators wish to emulate or borrow from the regulatory structure that has produced California 's emissions standards, this article will help advance their understanding by setting forth the complex legal and political underpinnings of California's system.

carlson.doc213.5 KB