California must have the waiver reinstated before it can enforce its standards, according to Thomas Lorenzen, a partner in Crowell & Moring's D.C. office.
"The Clean Air Act is very specific that state standards for emissions from motor vehicles are preempted absent a waiver," he said. "So there is always a bit of a dance between California and the EPA."
The EPA's granting of a waiver to California also is subject to judicial review, said Lorenzen, who was a senior official in the Justice Department in charge of defending the George W. Bush administration's denial of California's waiver request and the reinstatement of the waiver during the Obama administration.
"If the motor vehicle manufacturers can show that California, for instance, has not acted consistent with the timing and cost consideration requirements of the Clean Air Act Section 7521, they can get that waiver set aside," he explained. "If California pushes too hard, that is something that EPA is supposed to take into account in deciding whether to grant a waiver."
The Trump administration denied California's waiver request "based on this idea that more fuel-efficient vehicles were less safe," Lorenzen added.
Auto makers have not repeated that claim, he said. "They believe they can develop fuel-efficient vehicles that are safe and that is what they are pushing towards."