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Can states cut carbon? EPA says no.

California's bid to set tougher auto-emissions standards has been stymied by the Bush administration. Now the courts will decide.

By / March 6, 2008

Commuters navigate the Los Angeles freeways during a spring storm.

AP Photo/Branimir Kvartuc/FILE


The political tussle over whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant subject to government regulation has gone on for years.

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Early in his first term as vice president, Al Gore pushed a tax on CO2. Democrats and Republicans in Congress were both skeptical. The idea went nowhere.

As a presidential candidate, George Bush seemed to think regulating CO2 was a good idea. At least he said so.

After his election, then-Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Christie Whitman marched forth in support of what she thought was White House policy. She quickly got reeled back. Two years later she resigned, complaining that Vice President Dick Cheney kept pushing for weaker air pollution controls.

Fast forward to the present, and the fight continues – this time pitting the Bush administration against a group of 19 governors led by Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) of California. California had passed a law forcing automakers to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016.

But the EPA failed to go along.

In explaining his refusal, EPA administrator Stephen Johnson last week wrote that California had not proved "compelling and extraordinary conditions" allowing it to be granted a waiver under the federal Clean Air Act because the rest of the nation also suffers the effects of global warming. Mr. Johnson told the Associated Press:

"I'm not saying that California isn't experiencing problems as a result of global climate change.... There are in fact other parts of the country that are actually worse."

Environmentalists and California officials disagree with Johnson's interpretation, contending that California has been granted Clean Air Act waivers in the past to deal with problems that are happening elsewhere, such as diesel pollution. The AP story points out:

"Critics also contend that California does, in fact, have uniquely worse problems from global warming compared with other states, including wildfire risks, air pollution, and water supply shortages."