California sues EPA over refusal to let state limit greenhouse gases

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California sued the Bush administration on Wednesday, Jan. 2, over federal officials’ refusal to allow the state to enforce its law limiting vehicle emissions of gases that contribute to global warming, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Attorney General Jerry Brown announced the lawsuit against the EPA, which was joined by 15 other states, at a news conference.

The EPA said Dec. 19 that it denied California’s request to implement clean-air standards stricter than federal rules. The federal Clean Air Act allows California, because of its smog problems, to exceed nationwide air-quality rules if the state obtains a waiver from the EPA, which had not denied any of the state’s applications since the law took effect more than 30 years ago.

Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson noted that President Bush had just signed a law increasing gas mileage standards for cars and trucks and said a nationwide approach to controlling greenhouse gases was preferable to state-by-state regulation. Johnson also said the state didn’t qualify for a waiver because greenhouse gases were not unique to California.

Johnson’s decision was “shocking in its incoherence and utter failure to provide legal justification for the administrator’s unprecedented action,” Brown said at the news conference. Citing reports in The Chronicle and other news outlets that Johnson had ignored recommendations from a majority of his legal staff, the attorney general accused the Bush appointee of “doing the bidding of the auto industry.”

The EPA’s decision was considered a victory for automakers, which had argued that they would have been forced to reduce their selection of vehicles and raise prices in the states that adopted California’s standards. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said federal regulators were “ignoring the will of millions of people who want their government to take action in the fight against global warming.”

California’s law, passed in 2002, established the nation’s first limits on auto emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that scientists consider to be among the major causes of global warming. The law was scheduled to take effect with the 2009 models and would require a 30 percent emissions reduction by 2016. The 15 states joining California are those that have adopted similar laws or are in the process of doing so; four environmental organizations also sued to overturn Johnson’s decision.

In response to the suits, the EPA again cited the new law raising gas mileage requirements. “We now have a more beneficial national approach to a national problem, which establishes an aggressive standard for all 50 states as opposed to a lower standard in California and a patchwork of other states,” Jonathan Shradar, a spokesman for the federal agency, told the Chronicle.

California officials say the state’s law actually would require greater fuel efficiency at an earlier date – 2016 instead of the 2020 timetable in the federal law. California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols told the Chronicle that California’s proposed standards – which would require automakers’ fleets to average 44 mpg by 2020 – would lead to reductions of roughly twice as much greenhouse gases as the federal requirement that fleets average 35 mpg by 2020.