Dems to investigate EPA rejection of California emissions law
WASHINGTON ” Congressional Democrats today announced an investigation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s refusal to let California implement its tailpipe emissions law, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his intent to appeal.
They were the first steps in what promises to be a fierce legal and political battle over EPA’s move to block California and at least 16 other states from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from new cars and trucks.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., sent a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson demanding “all documents relating to the California waiver request, other than those that are available on the public record.”
Waxman told Johnson to have EPA staff preserve all records. The decision against California “appears to have ignored the evidence before the agency and the requirements of the Clean Air Act,” Waxman wrote, citing a report in the Washington Post that Johnson overruled the agency’s professional staff in making his decision. Waxman asked for all the relevant documents by Jan. 23.
Johnson on Wednesday denied his decision was political, saying it was based on legal analysis of the Clean Air Act and that his staff presented him with a “range of options.”
“The agency will respond to the chairman regarding the administrator’s decision and his support for a clear, national solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from American vehicles,” EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood said today. “EPA strongly supports the oversight authority of Congress.”
President Bush stood behind his EPA administrator.
“The question is how to have an effective strategy. Is it more effective to let each state make a decision as to how to proceed in curbing greenhouse gases or is it more effective to have a national strategy,” Bush said at a news conference today.
Johnson said California’s emissions limits weren’t needed because Congress just passed energy legislation raising fuel economy standards nationwide.
“The director in assessing this law and assessing what would be more effective for the country said we now have a national plan,” said Bush. “It’s one of the benefits of Congress passing this legislation.”
Johnson’s long-awaited announcement provoked applause from the auto industry, but an outcry of protest from environmentalists, congressional Democrats and officials in California and other affected states.
Today Schwarzenegger moved forward on plans for a lawsuit, announcing the state would file an appeal within three weeks in the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.
“I have no doubt that we will prevail because the law, science and the public’s demand for leadership are on our side. Anything less than aggressive action is inexcusable,” Schwarzenegger said.
The tailpipe standards California adopted in 2004 would have forced automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016, with the cutbacks beginning in the 2009 model year.
Under the Clean Air Act, the state needed a federal waiver to implement the rules, and other states could then adopt them too.
Johnson said a better approach was new energy legislation requiring automakers to achieve an industrywide average fuel efficiency for cars, SUVs and small trucks of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. He said California’s law would have yielded a 33.8 mpg standard, but California Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols disputed that, saying the California regulations would have resulted in a 36.8 miles per gallon average and would have taken effect sooner than the federal standards.
California’s law also would have affected a wider array of emissions, including those from vehicle air conditioners.
In a conference call today House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., a top protector of the auto industry, said he had not reviewed the EPA’s decision and couldn’t provide “a good comment” but praised the energy bill signed by Bush, noting that “we are going to have a very significant reduction in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.”
The auto regulations were to have been a major part of California’s first-in-the-nation global warming law which aims to reduce greenhouse gases economy-wide by 25 percent ” to 1990 levels ” by 2020. The auto emission reductions would have accounted for about 17 percent of the state’s proposed reductions.
Nichols said California expects to win on appeal and does not plan to shift its strategy on meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Twelve other states ” Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington ” have adopted the California emissions standards, and the governors of Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Utah have said they also plan to adopt them. The rules were also under consideration in Iowa.
It was the first time EPA had completely denied California a Clean Air Act waiver request, after granting more than 50.