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Supreme Court: EPA Can Regulate Greenhouse Gas Emissions

(ENS) WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has denied California's request to impose greenhouse gas emissions limits on motor vehicles. It is the first time the EPA has ever denied a waiver request under the Clean Air Act, and California officials are already preparing their lawsuit.

California sought a waiver of federal standards as the state is entitled to do under the Clean Air Act so that the state could adopt stricter standards.

California's law requires a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions standards from motor vehicles by 2016, while the federal government does not regulate greenhouse gas emissions at all.

The denial will trigger a lawsuit against the EPA, said California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today.

"There is absolutely no legal justification for the Bush administration to deny this request," he said. "Governor [Arnold] Schwarzenegger and I are preparing to sue at the earliest possible moment."

Sixteen other states -- Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington -- have adopted, or are in the process of adopting California's emissions standards. Approval of California's waiver would have meant that other states get approval automatically.

In rejecting California's request, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said the energy bill signed into law by President Bush today is "a national solution" that is better than a "confusing patchwork of state rules -- to reduce America's climate footprint from vehicles."

But the Energy Independence and Security Act does not regulate greenhouse gas emissions, although it does mandate a fuel economy standard of 35 miles per gallon in the year 2020.

The two policies differ in that the California Clean Cars Program would begin with model year 2009, a decade before the 35 miles per gallon standard in the energy bill kicks in.

"It is completely absurd to assert that California does not have a compelling need to fight global warming by curbing greenhouse gas emissions from cars," said Brown.

State and local clean air officials today decried EPA's denial of California's request for a waiver. Executive Director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies Bill Becker said, "By refusing to grant California's waiver request for its new motor vehicle standards to control greenhouse gas emissions, the Administration has ignored the clear and very limited statutory criteria upon which this decision was to be based. Instead, it has issued a verdict that is legally and technically unjustified and indefensible."

Environmentalists are angry. Fred Krupp, president of the nonprofit Environmental Defense, called the denial "outrageous."

"Doing nothing about global warming is bad enough -- but going out of your way to block the leaders who are trying to solve this is an outrage," said Krupp, adding that he will be working "with the rest of the environmental community to explore all legal avenues to fight this decision."

The nonprofit Environment California said the EPA "has chosen to ignore the science behind global warming and the Clean Air Act and bowed to political pressure from automobile industry and their friends in the White House."

"While President Bush signed into law fuel economy standards today, the two policies are not comparable with regards to global warming pollution reductions by 2020," Environment California said in a statement.

"In fact, California will emit three times more global warming pollution per year by 2020 under the fuel economy standards signed into law today by President Bush, than it would have under the Clean Cars Program had the waiver been granted," the organization said.

David Doniger, Climate Center policy director with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said denial of the waiver will be damaging to the climate.

"The California standards are the single most effective step yet taken in the United States to curb global warming," he said. "By blocking the California standards, the administration has stuck a thumb in the eye of governors from both red and blue states who have led the way on global warming by adopting these landmark rules."

"Their right to do so has been affirmed by three federal court decisions this year, including the Supreme Court's landmark ruling that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant, just like any other," Doniger said. "The new energy law signed by the president today explicitly preserves this Clean Air Act authority."

EPA Administrator Johnson argues that California's current waiver request is "distinct from all prior requests" because previous requests "covered pollutants that predominantly impacted local and regional air quality. Greenhouse gases are fundamentally global in nature," said Johnson.

"These gases contribute to the challenge of global climate change affecting every state in the union," Johnson said. "Therefore, according to the criteria in section 209 of the Clean Air Act, EPA did not find that separate California standards are needed to "meet compelling and extraordinary conditions."

But Attorney General Brown argues that California does face compelling and extraordinary conditions.

There are 32 million registered vehicles in California, twice the number of any other state and 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.

"If California's landmark global warming law -- and the corresponding 30 percent improvement in emissions standards -- were adopted nationally," he said, "the United States could cut annual oil imports by $100 billion, at $50 per barrel." Today, the price of oil hovers around $90 per barrel.

© 2007 Environment News Service and reprinted by special permission

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Albion Monitor   December 20, 2007   (

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