National Clean Cars Program


California was granted special authority under the federal Clean Air Act (adopted in 1970 and amended in 1990) to adopt stricter emissions standards because of its unique and historic air quality problems. For this reason, California has long led the nation in setting stringent vehicle emissions standards that protect public health.

At President Obama’s direction, California worked with the U.S. EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards for model-years 2017–2025. In August 2012, the Obama Administration announced that it had finalized its National Program, which “harmonizes” federal and California vehicle standards. As part of the process, California agreed to accept the federal standards as sufficient to protect the state’s citizens. However, California retains independent authority under the Clean Air Act to adopt its own laws that are stronger than the federal rules, should the state deem it necessary to do so. California is the only state with this unique Clean Air Act authority, and other states can choose to follow its lead. As part of the 2012 National Program, the parties agreed to conduct a midterm review in 2017 for the model years 2022-2025. The goal of the review is to assess technology and market progress and allow for adjustments, if needed.

On a related track, U.S. EPA is finalizing a program that considers the vehicle and its fuel as an integrated system, setting new vehicle emissions standards and lowering the sulfur content of gasoline beginning in 2017. The Tier 3 program is designed to be consistent with California’s existing requirements for lower sulfur fuel and would harmonize with the criteria pollution component of California’s Advanced Clean Cars rules that were adopted in 2012. Once again, the rest of the country is following California’s lead.

This joint effort followed a previously successful agreement between state and federal agencies and automakers to adopt the National Program, which established the current standards for model years 2012–2016.

The Canadian government, which has closely tracked the U.S. national vehicle standards, finalized its vehicle rules for model years 2017 and beyond in September 2014. In October, 2016, Quebec’s legislature unanimously adopted a zero emission vehicle standard to help get 100,000 ZEVs on the road by 2020.