Who should regulate vehicle emissions?

Schwarzenegger and the Bush administration duke it out over who has the right to regulate tailpipe emissions.

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From opposite ends of the United States, two of the nation's most prominent Republicans are butting heads over who has the right to regulate the vehicle emissions that largely contribute to global warming.

In one corner, a former movie action hero, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Across the ring, a former Texas oilman and sports team owner, President George W. Bush.

Governor Schwarzenegger, along with many fellow governors of both parties, says that because he's closer to the problem he's best able to deal with it. The president says climate change is a global problem that should be handled at the highest level of government.

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In the latest round, Stephen Johnson, administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced last week that there was no need or legal justification for state regulation of auto exhaust under the federal Clean Air Act, which is what California is requesting in the form of a waiver to the law.

But the Los Angeles Times reports that the EPA's staff disagree.

" 'All the briefings we have given [Johnson] laid out the facts,' [said an EPA staffer].... California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said she was also told by EPA staff that they were overruled by Johnson. She said Johnson's decision showed 'that this administration ignores the science and ignores the law to reach the politically convenient conclusion.'"

Under the Clean Air Act, California (notorious for its smog and other air pollution problems) is allowed to set its own vehicle emission standards as long as the EPA approves. The state has made 40 requests for waivers over the past 30 years, all of which were approved by the EPA. An article in Britain's Financial Times reports that the California governor vows a legal fight.

"Mr. Schwarzenegger said ... he would sue to overturn the decision, saying the EPA had blocked the 'will of millions of people in California and 16 other states who want us to take tough action against global warming.' He said the denial was 'legally indefensible and another example of the failure to treat climate change with the seriousness it demands.' "

Schwarzenegger said he feels obligated to crack down on carbon-dioxide emissions (the main greenhouse gas) from motor vehicles because the Bush administration has failed to do so. In an interview with Time magazine online, the governor says:

"Give me a national policy that says we're going to take this seriously and we're going to fight global warming. But right now, there has been none. So how can you say you cannot regulate, you cannot have your own standards, [that] we have to set a national standard, when there is no national standard?"

Meanwhile, the San Jose Mercury News reports that the California Air Resources Board is looking at other ways to reduce greenhouse gases from vehicles which account for about 28 percent of the state's emissions.

"One option is to push a 'freebate' plan proposed by Assemblyman Ira Ruskin. It would reward those who buy very fuel-efficient cars with a rebate of up to $2,500, and hit buyers of less thrifty models with fees up to $2,500.... Ruskin said studies show the program could cut greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles in the state as much as 27 percent by 2016 – almost as much as the plan rejected by the EPA."

It's unclear whether California will prevail in its court challenge. Many among California's 16 partner states are confident they will win. The Seattle Times editorializes:

"Separate failed lawsuits by the auto industry already concluded California and individual states have the authority to regulate such emissions. The US Supreme Court last spring told EPA it could no longer duck involvement with CO2 emissions."

The Sacramento Bee points out the political and legal dimensions of such a controversial issue:

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