States Sue EPA over California Emissions Decision: Regulation of Vehicle Emissions, Clean Air Standards at Issue

By Krisberg, Kim | The Nation's Health, February 2008 | Go to article overview

States Sue EPA over California Emissions Decision: Regulation of Vehicle Emissions, Clean Air Standards at Issue


Krisberg, Kim, The Nation's Health


The debate over which direction the nation will take to reduce greenhouse gases--the leading cause of climate change--is in full swing, as more than a dozen states and a handful of environmental groups take the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to court.

Following California's lead, 15 states and five environmental non-profits filed suit against EPA in January, challenging the agency's decision to deny California the right to implement what has been hailed as a landmark climate change law. In mid-December, EPA rejected a California waiver request that would have allowed the state to implement new emission standards for vehicles. Under the federal Clean Air Act, California has the opportunity to develop clean air regulations that are more stringent than federal requirements, and states are then allowed to follow California's lead. EPA's December decision marks the first time the agency has denied a California waiver under the Clean Air Act in more than 40 years.

"It is unconscionable that the federal government is keeping California and 19 other states from adopting these standards," said California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a prepared statement. "They are ignoring the will of millions of people who want their government to take action in the fight against global warming ... California has always been a leader in protecting the environment, and we will do everything in our power to continue that proud tradition."

The California regulations, adopted by the state's Air Resources Board in 2005, would require a 30 percent reduction in vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by 2016 and was supposed to be implemented beginning with model year 2009 vehicles. According to the governor's office, the vehicle standards could eliminate enough greenhouse gas emissions to equal taking more than 6 million cars off the road by 2020.

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Up until EPA's denial, a number of court wins had begun clearing the way for the landmark standards. In April, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that EPA has the authority to regulate pollutants such as greenhouse gases, and in early December a federal judge rejected an auto industry challenge to the California emission standards. EPA's waiver approval was to be the last step toward implementation. In denying the waiver request, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson cited a federal energy bill that President Bush signed into law Dec. 19. Johnson said the energy bill provides a clear national solution--not a confusing patchwork of state rules--to reduce America's climate footprint from vehicles." However, environmental advocates disagree and amid reports that Johnson ignored recommendations from his own staff, members of Congress have called for an investigation into how Johnson decided to deny California's request.

According to Stanley Young, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, the California vehicle standards would kick in sooner, result in greater reductions and are more stringent by 2020 than the federal energy bill standards. In addition, Young said, "(EPA) should be setting the standards, not handing it over to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has no experience whatsoever in dealing with greenhouse gases." While the energy bill addresses NHTSA's fuel economy and consumption rules, climate change-related vehicle emissions are a different matter, he noted.

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States Sue EPA over California Emissions Decision: Regulation of Vehicle Emissions, Clean Air Standards at Issue
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