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Image credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

NHTSA proposal would override California's tougher emissions rules

It would also freeze fuel economy requirements after 2020.

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Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Trump administration hasn't been shy about wanting to roll back emissions and fuel economy guidelines, but there's been a key obstacle to that: California. It has a waiver permitting it to apply tougher emissions standards, and that (combined with support from 12 other states) effectively dictates the rules for automakers across the US. Officials may soon force California to honor looser federal standards, however. The Wall Street Journal has learned of an NHTSA proposal that would not only freeze increases on fuel emissions standards between 2020 and 2026, but would include "scenarios" that would let it override or even eliminate California's authority to maintain its own increases.

The WSJ's sources didn't say exactly how this override would work, and the proposal isn't guaranteed to survive. Even if the proposal remains the same, it would still need EPA approval that isn't expected given a "lack of consensus" in the administration. The NHTSA has declined to comment so far.

If the proposal went forward, though, it would risk triggering a wider legal battle. The administration has already lost a bid to delay fuel economy penalties, and California's Air Resources Board is considering a lawsuit to counter the White House's efforts to loosen emissions standards. It's doubtful the Golden State would let the loss of authority go unchallenged. That, in turn, could lead to a protracted court battle and might even create a split where companies build different versions of cars for different states. Automakers have pushed for a unified fuel standard, but they might get just the opposite.

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