From vehicle emissions to PFAS, it’s a busy week for EPA watchers. UCLA experts weigh in below.

Graphic outline of a car

Vehicle emissions

Tuesday’s ruling by a federal appellate court in Washington, D.C., upheld one in a series of waivers California has received from the Environmental Protection Agency, allowing California to regulate vehicle emissions more strictly than the federal government does. The court used reasoning more often used to reject environmental suits, said UCLA environmental law professor Ann Carlson, who just returned to campus after helping set federal fuel economy standards as President Joe Biden’s acting administrator and chief counsel for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA. Carlson says she’s encouraged by the decision in Ohio v. Environmental Protection Agency:

  • “California’s authority to regulate pollutants from vehicles under the Clean Air Act is vital for both air pollution and climate change. This decision preserves the state’s authority to lead in both of those areas.”
  • What’s unusual about this ruling is that the court said that the fuel companies and red states that brought the suit didn’t have standing to sue except on one farfetched constitutional claim, which the court also rejected. This is interesting because the question of standing is often used to deny environmental groups the right to sue, and that doctrine has gotten more stringent under the conservatives on the Supreme Court. It will be interesting to see if it’s applied in other cases against private interests and states challenging strong environmental regulations.”
  • This is the most important environmental power California has to cut the air pollutants that cause smog and the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Part of why the special authority California has is so important is that California steps in to keep pushing clean-vehicle standards during the administrations when the federal government is unwilling to regulate emissions. Even under the Biden administration, California’s vehicle emissions policies are more ambitious than federal standards. California’s leadership has made a real difference in the push toward zero-emissions vehicles and the electrification of the vehicle fleet.”
  • “The fuel company and state petitioners can seek review in the Supreme Court. It’s hard to predict whether the Supreme Court would hear the case but easy to predict that the petitioners will try.”
  • “There’s virtually no question that another Trump administration would reverse and deny the EPA waiver, along with rolling back EPA and fuel economy standards, as it did after the Obama administration. However, the policies Congress adopted in the Inflation Reduction Act to incentivize the manufacture and purchase of zero-emissions vehicles, and policies in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) to spur the development of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, will make it much more difficult to slow down, let alone stop, the transformation in the automobile sector to electric vehicles.”

Media are encouraged to quote from Carlson’s analysis or reach out to see if she is available for an interview. Carlson is the Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law at the UCLA School of Law, the former acting administrator of NHTSA and a leading scholar on air pollution and climate change law and policy. She can also speak about issues related to regulating automated vehicles, including Teslas; regulating vehicle emissions; and how Los Angeles and California have made dramatic progress in cleaning their air.

Graphic outline of a smoke stack

Regulating ‘forever chemicals’

On Wednesday, the EPA announced national limits on the amount of human-made chemicals called PFAS — known as “forever chemicals” — in drinking water. UCLA medical anthropologist and PFAS expert Nicholas Shapiro, who studies carceral ecologies and whose recent research found that drinking water in U.S. prisons has dangerously high PFAS levels, said that when it comes to determining national PFAS contamination patterns, the monitoring component of the EPA rule will increase the data resolution 11 times over:

  • “The monitoring mandate will help to smooth out the extremely patchy PFAS data landscape that makes national analyses of these toxic chemicals difficult to impossible.”

Media are encouraged to quote from Shapiro’s or Carlson’s comments, or reach out on these and other environmental topics for additional context, research and analysis from UCLA climate experts.

Alison Hewitt
Senior Media Relations Officer
UCLA Strategic Communications | Office of Media Relations | @ashewitt |@ahewitt.bsky