California sues EPA over denial of waiver

EPA taken to court over its decision to prevent California from adopting its own emissions standards for cars and trucks.

SAN FRANCISCO--California sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, challenging its recent decision to block California rules curbing greenhouse-gas emissions from new cars and trucks.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, California has the right to set its own standards on air pollutants, but must receive a waiver from the EPA to do so. The environmental agency broke with decades of precedent last month and denied California a waiver to move forward with its proposed limits on vehicular emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide.

In a statement announcing the lawsuit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said, "It is unconscionable that the federal government is keeping California" from adopting new standards.

California officials argue that the agency had no legal or technical justification for blocking the new standards. The EPA administrator, Stephen L. Johnson, said when announcing the decision that a new federal fuel-economy mandate would be more efficient in curbing pollution than the state standards.

The lawsuit also challenges the agency's contention that California is not uniquely affected by global warming and so lacks the "compelling and extraordinary" conditions that would allow it to regulate greenhouse-gas pollutants.

Mary D. Nichols, the chairwoman of the Air Resources Board, the state agency charged with putting California's 2002 law on vehicular emissions into practice, said the suit was filed quickly because "the states didn't want to sleep on their rights."

California regulators, Nichols added, have just calculated that in 2016, the state's standard would reduce carbon dioxide output by 17.2 million metric tons, more than double the 7.7 million metric tons that would be eliminated under the new federal fuel-economy standard.

California's cumulative reductions from 2009 through 2016 would be 58 million tons, she said--triple the reductions the federal standards would provide.

The environmental agency had no immediate reaction to the new calculations, but it did put out a statement in response to the lawsuit, saying in part, "As the administrator indicated" in the December 19 decision, "we now have a more beneficial national approach to a national problem which establishes an aggressive standard for all 50 states, as opposed to a lower standard in California and a patchwork of other states."

Nichols pointed out, in a telephone news conference, that the Clean Air Act did not permit a patchwork of individual state regulations; it permits California to have independent rules on air pollutants, and permits other states to choose between the federal standards or more stringent standards set by California.

California's attorney general, Jerry Brown, added that the word "patchwork" was "completely untrue."

"California's got the only" greenhouse-gas emission standard "in the country," Brown said.

The lawsuit was joined by New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and 11 other states as well as five environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"We think because it was a California rule, the precedents indicate the Ninth Circuit is the appropriate jurisdiction," Brown said, referring to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in Washington, disputed Brown's assertion that there was no other nationwide standard set to curb emissions of heat-trapping gases.

"Congress approved an energy bill that will result in 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide over the next 12 years, so there is a national program now," Bergquist said. "So it isn't a question of California not having a reduction."

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