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EPA can help world 'transition from fossil fuels'

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it”, says the NRSV in Psalm 24:1. God has called human beings to take care of that precious gift. We need to work hard to protect the earth from threats to its well-being.

I was present at COP28, the UN meeting in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in December 2023. That meeting was chaired by the president of COP28, (the Conference of Parties) Sultan Al Jaber, the head of the UAE’s state oil company. He had famously said during the meeting: “There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says the phaseout of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5.” That figure is the maximum increase in the global temperature, measured in Celsius, since 1880 (the beginning of the Industrial Revolution), that the world can tolerate without facing devastating damage during the 21st century.

Transition from fossil fuels are four significant words. 

However, Sultan Al Jaber moderated over a significant moment.  The the 197 nations at COP28 agreed to “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner.” It was the first time that phasing down fossil fuels was mentioned in any agreement of any COP in 28 years of international climate negotiations.  Transition from fossil fuels are four significant words.  They can help us as we do the work to protect God’s creation and respond as a country to various policy proposals.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, a previous president of COP (the Conference of Parties), said: “After three decades of U.N. climate negotiations, countries have at last shifted the focus to the polluting fossil fuels driving the climate crisis. This outcome must signal the beginning of the end for the fossil fuel era.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has before it a request from the California Air Resource Board (CARB) that would help implement the action of COP28 that the world will transition from fossil fuels.

California was allowed by the Act to create its own regulations because of the extreme smog the state experienced in the 1960s.

In November 2022, CARB passed a rule, called the Advanced Clean Cars II (ACC II) that increased California’s already strict motor vehicle emission control rules and requires that all new passenger vehicles sold in-state to be zero-emission by 2035. That is the same year that many car companies say that they will no longer build gas powered vehicles.

The Clean Air Act prohibits each state from creating its own vehicle regulations, except for California. California was allowed by the Act to create its own regulations because of the extreme smog the state experienced in the 1960s. Other states are not allowed to create their own standards under the Clean Air Act, but are permitted to adopt California’s more stringent regulations if they adopt an identical law. 

Vermont was the first state to adopt ACC II in December 2022; New York,  Washington and OregonColoradoRhode IslandNew JerseyMarylandMassachusetts, and New Mexico have also since adopted ACC II. MaineDelaware, and Connecticut are in process of rulemaking or indicated their interest in doing so.

The EPA is required to consider granting California and all other states that adopt California’s rule a waiver. That is what is going on now. The EPA had hearings in January 2024 and will decide later if California and the other states that have adopted California’s rule can have an exception.

The EPA is able to take an important step in implementing the step taken by COP28. Obviously, a lot more steps are needed to protect God’s creation.

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