EPA Denies California’s Attempt to Impose Car Emissions Standard

Published February 1, 2008

Greenhouse gas emissions from automotive vehicles are best addressed at the national level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined. Accordingly, EPA has denied California’s request for a waiver of federal standards through which the state hoped to impose more draconian restrictions on automobile emissions.

Patchwork Regulations Criticized

EPA offered several reasons for its December 19 decision to continue requiring national consistency in automotive emissions standards.

Most notably, EPA observed significantly more stringent fuel economy requirements in the new federal energy bill will reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a national level; a single, national emissions standard will be more effective and efficient than patchwork state regulations; and greenhouse gas emissions are more of a global and national problem than a regional one.

“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 in a December 19 conference call. “I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone.”

Energy Bill Takes Action

“The two primary approaches for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles are increasing the fuel economy of vehicles and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their fuel,” added EPA in a December 19 press statement.

“The recently signed energy bill addresses both approaches by increasing the fuel economy from vehicles to 35 miles per gallon, an increase of 40 percent, as well as increasing the amount of renewable fuel used to 36 billion gallons, nearly a five-fold increase,” the statement continued.

Lawsuits Promised

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) expressed disappointment at EPA’s decision, and his administration vowed to sue EPA as many times as it takes to overturn the ruling.

“We are deeply disappointed that the administrator has chosen to deny our waiver, and we are even more discouraged that he did it on such flimsy grounds,” California Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols said in a press teleconference. “We are not happy and intend to pursue our legal remedies. We will sue and sue and sue and sue until we get our legal rights.”

While activist groups noted EPA has granted California many waivers in the past, the EPA press statement pointed out California’s greenhouse gas request was “distinct from all prior requests” because “greenhouse gases are fundamentally global in nature, which is unlike the other air pollutants covered by prior California waiver requests.”

‘Bring It On’

“The uproar over U.S. EPA Administrator Johnson’s refusal to issue a waiver of federal preemption for the California vehicle emission standards for so-called ‘greenhouse gases’ was predictable,” said Maureen Martin, senior fellow for legal affairs at The Heartland Institute. “California threatened to sue EPA, and Congressional Democrats vowed an investigation into Johnson’s decision. Bring it on. Johnson did the right thing.

“By law, federal Clean Air Act standards can be waived for California only if necessary to meet ‘compelling and extraordinary conditions’ within that state,” Martin explained. “There is nothing ‘compelling and extraordinary’ about the emission of greenhouse gases–primarily carbon dioxide–from vehicles in California.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.