State leaders take aim at EPA at Senate committee briefing
LOS ANGELES (AP) – A panel of outraged state and environmental leaders met Thursday to examine why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency denied a waiver that would have allowed California and 16 other states to regulate emissions from cars, trucks and SUVs.
The denial was the first time the EPA had refused California a waiver under the Clean Air Act since Congress gave the state the right to obtain such waivers in 1967. In response, California sued the federal government.
“I think it is fair to say that in the intervening 37 years, no administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency has issued a decision which more flagrantly violated the clear language and intent of the Clean Air Act, or more fundamentally threatened the American people,” Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, told a Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works during the field briefing.
Last month EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson rejected the state’s arguments that it faced unique threats from climate change. Johnson said the federal government has a national plan to raise fuel economy standards that would be more effective than a patchwork of state regulations.
The EPA’s denial angered members of Congress, including Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Henry Waxman, California Democrats who chair the committees that oversee the EPA. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called on the agency’s inspector general to investigate allegations that Johnson acted against recommendations from his technical and legal staff in denying the waiver.
The EPA said it would turn over all documents about its decision, but Boxer’s committee was unable to get the paperwork in time for Thursday’s hearing.
“Where’s the work? Where’s the beef behind this decision?” Boxer asked as she waved around an empty cardboard box with the label “EPA Documents.”
Before her was an empty chair reserved for Johnson, who did not attend the hearing. On either side of that chair sat Pope, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr., state Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols and Natural Resources Defense Council senior climate adviser Fran Pavley.
California officials have argued that their more aggressive law would require the auto industry to cut emissions by one-third in new vehicles by 2016, boosting efficiency to about 36.8 mpg. An analysis released by state air regulators showed their 2004 tailpipe regulation would be faster and tougher than the federal fuel economy rules.
Twelve other states – Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington – have adopted California’s emissions standards, and others have said they plan to do so. The 12 states, along with Arizona, Delaware and Illinois, said Wednesday they plan to intervene in support of California.
The EPA’s Dec. 19 decision was a victory for automakers, which argued that they would be forced to reduce their selection of vehicles and raise prices in states that adopted California’s standards.
Brown railed against the EPA and the Bush administration, calling the refusal a “backroom deal” with automakers.
“Sooner or later we’re going to uncover real corruption,” he said.
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