California Sues EPA for Rejecting Tailpipe Emissions Law

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 2, 2007 (ENS) – The California government today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for “wrongfully and illegally” blocking the state’s tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions standards. Fifteen other states joined the California lawsuit, and in addition, five nonprofit groups today filed suit challenging the EPA’s decision.

The waiver, allowing California to enact and enforce standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, was requested after the California Air Resources Board developed regulations based on a 2002 state law that requires new standards for motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions beginning in model year 2009.

The regulations will phase in and ramp up over eight years to cut emissions from new vehicles by nearly 30 percent by model year 2016. The state program would be the first legally binding program in the country to strictly limit greenhouse gases.

Under the Clean Air Act, California is the only state that has the right to enact standards stricter than those of the federal government, but any new standards require approval in the form of a waiver from the U.S. EPA of less stringent federal standards.

Los Angeles traffic
(Photo by Kim Davies)

Once California’s request for a waiver is approved, other states that have adopted California’s new tailpipe standards receive automatic approval.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson denied California’s request for a waiver on December 19, 2007 in a letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

California’s petition for judicial review of the EPA denial and the other legal actions were filed today in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“It is unconscionable that the federal government is keeping California and 16 other states from adopting these standards,” said California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“They are ignoring the will of millions of people who want their government to take action in the fight against global warming,” said the governor. “That’s why, at the very first legal opportunity, we’re suing to reverse the U.S. EPA’s wrong decision.”

“The denial letter was shocking in its incoherence and utter failure to provide legal justification for the administrator’s unprecedented action,” California Attorney General Brown said. “The EPA has done nothing at the national level to curb greenhouse gases and now it has wrongfully and illegally blocked California’s landmark tailpipe emissions standards, despite the fact that 16 states have moved to adopt them.”

Fifteen other states or state agencies – Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington – are joining today’s lawsuit as interveners.

“The EPA’s attempt to stop New York and other states from taking on global warming pollution from automobiles is shameful,” said New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. “As recognized by the scientific community and most world leaders, global warming will have devastating impacts on our environment, health, and economy if it continues to go unchecked.”

The nonprofit petitioners against the EPA denial are the Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental Defense, International Center for Technology Assessment, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.

“While global warming marches onward, EPA continues to drag its feet,” said Jim Tripp, general counsel of Environmental Defense. “The agency’s decision defies the law, the science and the will of states representing nearly half of the U.S. population.”

California’s request has been supported by recent judicial decisions. In December 2007, a federal court in Fresno issued a ruling that re-confirms states’ ability to set motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions standards, modeled after California’s strict regulations.

In September 2007, a court decision in Vermont confirmed that states do have the ability to adopt California’s motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions standards. The judge dismissed the argument by automobile manufacturers that they could not comply with the California-based regulation because the technology was out of reach and it would cost too much to comply.

The Vermont decision followed a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last April saying the U.S. EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

The problem, up close.
Vehicles that burn gasoline emit
greenhouse gases such as carbon
dioxide. (Photo by Chris Keating)

Over the past 40 years, the U.S. EPA has granted California more than 40 such waivers, denying none.

But in his letter of denial, EPA Administrator Johnson says that this California request for a waiver differs from previous requests in that it is “fundamentally global in nature.”

Johnson argues that the federal Energy Independence and Security Act passed the day before he issued the denial solves the problem of greenhouse gas emissions by increasing the federal fuel efficiency standard.

“I strongly support this national approach to this national challenge which establishes an aggressive standard of 35 miles per gallon for all 50 states, as opposed to 33.8 miles per gallon in California and a patchwork of other states,” Johnson writes.

“In light of the global nature of the problem of climate change, I have found that California does not have a “need to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions,” he writes.

But California Attorney General Brown said this statement “reversed decades of agency practice and ignored the dangerous consequences of global warming to the state of California.”

“Global warming threatens California’s Sierra mountain snow pack, which provides the state with one-third of its drinking water. California also has approximately 1,000 miles of coastline and levees that are threatened by rising sea levels,” Brown said.

Cars generate 20 percent of all human-made carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and at least 30 percent of such emissions in California, Brown said, adding, “The denial letter was shocking in its incoherence and utter failure to provide legal justification for the administrator’s unprecedented action.”

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