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States take clean-air measures into their own hands

Although the Bush administration has backed off carbon dioxide regulations, others are pushing the issue.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 13, 2005

Officially, and in contrast to many other countries, the United States remains unconvinced about global warming, reluctant to force steps that would reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse cases suspected of impacting Earth's climate.

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Despite Bush administration skepticism, however, climate change is emerging as a major political issue.

Prominent Republicans are among those lawmakers pushing legislation that would start US reduction of greenhouse gases in line with the international Kyoto treaty. In federal court, a dozen states seek to force the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Shareholder groups are pressuring corporations to consider the implications of climate change. And from coast to coast, states and communities - on their own and in groups - are implementing plans to "think globally, act locally" on climate change by regulating transportation, power generation, and energy use.

As a presidential candidate in 2000, George W. Bush promised that he would deal with carbon dioxide as a pollutant related to climate change. Once elected, and after hearing complaints from industry sources involved with crafting the administration's energy policy, he reversed that position and ordered the EPA to interpret the Clean Air Act as if it didn't apply to carbon dioxide.

Mr. Bush's "Clear Skies" proposal, designed to reduce the sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury emitted by coal-burning power plants and other industries, does not include carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas (GHG).

In the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last week, 12 states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington), along with the cities of Baltimore, New York, and Washington, argued for reducing GHGs under current law.

"The Clean Air Act specifically requires EPA to reduce emissions of pollutants that threaten public health and welfare, and names impacts on climate as one of the threats," says Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, one of the private groups supporting the states' lawsuit. "We expect the court will determine that EPA not only has the authority to reduce global-warming pollution, but has a duty to do so."

Acting on behalf of the administration, Justice Department lawyers assert that the EPA does not have that authority since it would involve fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks - the province of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

"For CO2, there's no catalytic converter," said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark. "There's no catch mechanism. The only way to reduce them is through fuel economy. The point is it would usurp NHTSA's authority." Siding with the administration here are many industry groups as well as 11 other states, including ones that produce oil and gas, automobiles, and coal-powered energy.