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EPA Faces Wave of Challenges to California Waiver Denial
WASHINGTON, DC, December 21, 2007 (ENS) - A powerful Congressional committee has launched an investigation into the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's denial of California's request to impose limits on greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles and other tailpipe toxics. It is the first time a waiver request has been denied under the federal Clean Air Act.

The Committee on Oversight and Govemment Reform has ordered EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson to preserve all documents relating to the decision he issued Wednesday not to grant a waiver of less stringent federal rules so that California's clean car law could take effect.

Congressman Henry Waxman of California (Photo by J. Kapitz)

Committee chair Congressman Henry Waxman of California has requested that Johnson provide all the documents from his office relating to the California waiver request to the committee by January 10, 2008. Documents from all EPA offices relating to this decision are to be handed over to the commettee by January 23.

"Prior to making this decision you assured the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as well as the state of Califomia and many others, that you would make this decision on the merits. It does not appear that you fulfilled that commitment," Waxman wrote in a letter to the EPA administrator on Thursday.

"Your decision appears to have ignored the evidence before the agency and the requirements of the Clean Air Act. In fact, reports indicate that you ovemrled the unanimous recommendations of EPA's legal and technical staffs in rejecting California's petition," Waxman wrote.

"Your decision not only has important consequences to our nation, but it raises serious questions about the integrity of the decision-making process," wrote Waxman. "Accordingly, the Committee has begun an investigation into this matter."

Announcing the denial, EPA administrator Johnson said the energy bill signed into law by the president earlier this week would be sufficient to curb greenhouse gases from cars because it mandates a 35 mile per gallon fuel efficiency standard for cars and light trucks across the country by 2020.

Traffic on a California section of Interstate 5 (Photo by Sandy Kemsley)

"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 Johnson.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, wrote Johnson Thursday to state her disagreement with his position and to remind him that Congress recently upheld the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and grant waivers.

"In particular," she wrote, "I find implausible your inference that the passage this week of the "Energy Independence and Security Act" eliminated the need for the waiver requested by California."

"Surely you and others in the Bush Administration were aware that the Congress rejected requests from the Administration to waive the Environmental Protection Agency's longstanding authority to regulate emissions and to grant states waivers under the Clean Air Act," Pelosi wrote.

"Citing the passage of our new law as a justification for denying California's request defies the legislative history as well as the explicit language of the "Energy Independence and Security Act."

The EPA is also facing lawsuits from states that adopted the California clean car standards. The states will challenge the denial of the waiver request, because approval of California's waiver would have meant that other states get approval automatically.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

California Attorney General Ed Brown, Jr. said Wednesday that he and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger are preparing for a lawsuit.

On Thursday, Governor Chris Gregoire said Washington state would seek legal action against the federal government over clean air laws designed to reduce global warming pollution from that state's automobiles.

"The Bush administration's decision to deny states the right to pass environmental protections to fight global warming is wrong," said Gregoire. "Washington cannot wait for permission to do the right thing for our state's environment and future generations. I have requested our Attorney General file in support of California's challenge to this decision as soon as possible."

Putting the California standards into action would mean the equivalent of eliminating 690,000 cars from Washington's roads in 2020, said the governor. Without the waiver, each year millions of metric tons of greenhouse gases, which otherwise would be eliminated, will instead continue to spew into our atmosphere.

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.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said his state is committed to fighting the decision in consultation with California and other states.

"It's frustrating to see this administration, which has consistently failed to lead on environmental issues, act as an obstructionist to states that are stepping up to protect their citizens and the environment," said Rendell.

Traffic in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Photo courtesy U.S. Insurance Zone)

"Each of us has been entrusted with a solemn obligation to be good stewards of God's creation," he said. "If the federal government doesn't wish to recognize that or exhibit real leadership on the issue, it needs to get out of the way and let states like California and Pennsylvania act to protect the health of our people, the environment and our economy."

"The federal government should be a partner in states' efforts to curb pollution that ravages the health of our people and our environment," said Maine Governor John Baldacci. "Unfortunately, instead, the administration in Washington, DC, has chosen to play the role of obstructionist."

While he does not say that Maine will join a lawsuit against the EPA, Baldacci said his administration will "continue to put forth strong, good faith efforts to protect our natural resources and our people."

Maine's climate change action plan has set a goal of reducing climate altering emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2010, and 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. This goal has also been set by other northeastern states.

At the EPA, Johnson is opposed to a state-by-state approach to addressing greenhouse gas pollution from vehicles.

"EPA has determined that a unified federal standard of 35 miles per gallon will deliver significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks in all 50 states, which would be more effective than a partial state-by-state approach of 33.8 miles per gallon." he said Wednesday.

But California clean car standards would start two years sooner than federal energy bill, and be fully phased in four years sooner. The California law would require a 30 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions on new vehicles by 2016.

Although the federal energy bill requires a fleet-wide average of 35 mpg by 2020, California officials say the state law would result in a 36 mpg average four years earlier.

California's law also would regulate a broader spectrum of greenhouse gases, including refrigerants from vehicle air conditioners, and it governs the emissions of a range of alternative fuels, not just gasoline. Under a waiver, California, Washington and other states could tighten their emission rules beyond 2020.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.

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