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American Shipper

EPA denies Calif. auto emission law, passes new national tailpipe law

EPA denies Calif. auto emission law, passes new national tailpipe law

The Bush administration Wednesday denied a two-year-old California environmental waiver request, effectively neutering a 2002 state law seeking to cut dramatically automobile greenhouse gas emissions.

   The denial came only hours after the administration enacted a new federal energy bill that set new national standards for vehicle mileage and tailpipe emissions.

   In issuing the denial, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the new energy bill preempts the California law by setting tougher national standards than sought in the state law.

   “The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution — not a confusing patchwork of state rules — to reduce America's climate footprint from vehicles,” said U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson.

   Under the federal Clean Air Act, California can set stricter-than-federal emission standards as long as the state obtains a federal waiver from the EPA. Wednesday's denial was the first after more than 50 EPA-approved California waivers over the past 40 years.

   In 2002, California approved a law aimed at eliminating 30 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and trucks in the state by 2016. The state tried to enact the standards set forth in the law, but a court ruled that while California does have the right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, the state required an EPA waiver before doing so. The state first asked for the waiver from the EPA regarding the law in 2005.

   The federal energy bill, passed by Congress earlier this year and enacted by the White House Wednesday morning, seeks to cut greenhouse gas emissions by raising national fuel economy standards to 35-miles-per-gallon by 2020.

   The 2002 California law would achieve its 30 percent greenhouse gas reduction by increasing California automobile fuel economy from the current 27.5 miles-per-gallon to just under 34 miles-per-gallon by 2016.

   State officials immediately blasted the Bush administration over Wednesday's denial.

   “It is disappointing that the federal government is standing in our way and ignoring the will of tens of millions of people across the nation,' said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The state will continue to fight to overturn the EPA decision, the governor said, adding, 'California sued to compel the agency to act on our waiver, and now we will sue to overturn today’s decision and allow Californians to protect our environment.”

   California's senatorial delegation also pulled no punches in reacting to news of the denial.

   Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein said she found the Bush administration's denial of the waiver 'disgraceful,' and that 'the passage of the Energy Bill does not give the EPA a green light to shirk its responsibility to protect the health and safety of the American people from air pollution.'

   Sen. Barbara Boxer, also a Democrat, said, “This ill-advised denial turns its back on science, turns its back on fairness, turns its back on states’ rights, and turns its back on precedent ' I am prepared to take all measures to overturn this harmful decision.”

   California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. questioned not only the EPA decision but also its basis in law.

   '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,' Brown said. 'There is absolutely no legal justification for the Bush administration to deny this request ' Gov. Schwarzenegger and I are preparing to sue at the earliest possible moment.'

   Brown also noted that this decision also affects numerous other states as well. Sixteen other states — Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington — have adopted, or are in the process of adopting California's emissions standards. EPA approval of California's waiver would have applied to these other states standards without separate waiver requests to the EPA.

   Reaction to the EPA denial from the affected states was quick and scathing.

   “The program of Maryland and the other states is better than the federal program,' said Shari Wilson, Maryland's environmental secretary. 'It’s an important issue because Maryland and other states have taken the right steps to make sure we get vehicle emission reductions sooner.”

   Dennis McLerran of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency told the Seattle Times: “This is a political decision, not a fact-based decision.”

   He predicted the state would join with California in suing over the EPA denial.

   McLerran's counterpart air regulators in Southern California, which initially drew up the implementation details of the 2002 California law, were also quick to denounce the EPA denial.

   “We’re deeply disappointed in the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision on this matter,” said Barry Wallerstein, executive officer for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. “The Bush administration continues to be non-responsive on climate change.”

   Even environmentalist, while quick to praise the new federal emission standards contained in the energy bill, were also critical of the EPA denial.

   Paul Kort, a lawyer with Oakland-based environmental law firm Earthjustice, said the suggestion that state laws would create a patchwork of fuel economy standards is “completely false.”

   “This decision is not about protecting a national policy to address global warming,' Kort told the Bay City News. 'This is about the White House protecting industry cronies from state leaders who actually want to fight global warming.”

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