States vie with US over emissions rules
Led by California, 11 states are pushing hard to get permission to set stricter standards than federal law requires.
Four months after making headlines with its new program to fight global warming by reducing carbon-dioxide emissions from vehicles, California finds its new plan is stalled – as do 11 other states waiting to do the same.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
As the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) holds a public hearing about the plan Wednesday in Sacramento, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and other governors are accusing the federal government of blocking their efforts to institute tougher standards for tailpipe emissions than US regulations require.
They say the Bush administration is dragging its feet on granting California a waiver – formal permission to deviate from federal standards – from the Clean Air Act, the sweeping 37-year-old federal law that regulates air emissions. California has requested 40 waivers since 1977 and received permission for the vast majority.
Until California gets the waiver, no other state that has adopted the same standards may move ahead either. The rules would force automakers to cut exhaust from cars and light trucks by 25 percent and from sport-utility vehicles by 18 percent, beginning with 2009 models. Collectively, the standards would cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 392 million metric tons by 2020 – the equivalent of taking 74 million cars off the road for one year, experts say.
California has been asking the EPA for authority to limit tailpipe emissions since 2004, but the agency had claimed it did not have authority to regulate global warming. That changed last month, when a US Supreme Court ruling found that the agency does in fact have that authority under the Clean Air Act. The decision was widely seen as putting pressure on the White House and federal government to address global warming.
The White House and the EPA say they are moving as quickly as the law allows.
"EPA [has] acted in a timely manner after the Supreme Court handed down its decision on greenhouse gases," says Kristen Hellmer, spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which works with agencies and executive offices on environmental policy.
Part of the EPA's process includes hearings at which interested parties – the auto industry, environmental groups, citizens – lay out their arguments for or against granting a waiver. The hearing in Sacramento follows one in Washington on May 23. No others are scheduled.
"Federal regulations say we need to make sure that implementing California's tailpipe emission standards would not be arbitrary and capricious," says EPA spokesman John Millett. The EPA could take from two months to two years to make its decision, he says. The EPA can deny the waiver only if the agency finds 1) that California does not need its standards "to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions" or 2) that the standards are inconsistent with other measures of the Clean Air Act.
Governor Schwarzenegger, state Attorney General Edmund "Jerry" Brown Jr., and other state attorneys general want the EPA to pick up its pace. Led by California, they vow to take legal action by October if the EPA has not acted. Their hope is that a US court would force the agency to make a decision, if it were to find the EPA timetable to be unreasonable.