The Environmental Protection Agency has denied California's request for a Clean Air Act waiver that would have allowed the state to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, Stephen L. Johnson, EPA administrator, told reporters tonight during a telephone press briefing.
Johnson emphasized the global nature of global warming, and the national nature of any solution that would counteract pollution that causes it. He said the Energy Bill, approved by Congress yesterday and signed by President Bush today, was a better strategy.
"It is a national strategy," he said. "Under this unified approach, the country will achieve significant greenhouse gas reductions, increased energy security and greater economic competitiveness. I believe this is a better approach than if states were to act alone."
The energy bill, while increasing fuel economy standards and increasing the use of renewable biofuels, did not require utilities to derive a portion of their electricity from renewable energy sources, nor did it cut back on oil and gas subsidies so that money could be applied to renewable energy research and development. Environmentalists considered the bill a mixed success, and its goal was not explicitly to counteract global warming; California's vehicle emissions law is designed to do just that.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed to sue.
The EPA decision marks the first time in the history of the Clean Air Act that California has been denied its right to set air quality standards that are more aggressive than the federal government's regulations. Forty such waivers have been granted over the course of the last three decades, according to a San Francisco Chronicle tally.
The proposed California standard calls for a 30 percent cut in tailpipe emissions by 2016, and it applied for the wavier two years ago. Another 17 states, according to tallies by environmental groups, would follow California's lead if authority were granted.
A landmark Supreme Court decision this spring set the stage for this decision, when the majority of justices ruled that the EPA has the right and responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases in order to combat global warming. California has the authority under the federal Clean Air Act to make laws that are more aggressive than federal rules, but its ability to implement the rule was in the hands of the EPA.
Transportation accounts for approximately one third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and the California rule was a centerpiece of its effort to control global warming. It is of a piece with other state-led efforts in virtually every region of the country. Such laws limiting greenhouse gas emissions, investing in renewable energy technology and improving energy efficiency have come, largely, because the federal government has done very little (with the very recent exception of the energy bill signed today by President Bush) to improve the nation's approach to energy in a 21st century marked by discernible climate change and credible warnings about catastrophic consequences to come should the world fail to act.
Johnson did acknowledge that global warming does harm, but that that harm is not restricted to California. He said California failed to meet the "compelling and extraordinary conditions" necessary to be granted the waiver.
The EPA decision was announced days after the Bush Administration participated in the United Nations summit on global warming in Bali, Indonesia. There, the U.S. delegation was widely accused of obstructing progress sought by the European Union and others. President Bush famously flip-flopped on limiting carbon dioxide emissions (he was for it before he was against it). Though the Bush Administration's stance at Bali was somewhat more progressive than its past position, the EPA's decision today seems to show that, on the issue of global warming, the administration is willing neither to let other nations lead, to let states lead, nor certainly to accept the responsibility to lead itself.
California lawmakers and environmentalists decried the decision.
There is absolutely no reason for the Bush administration to block Californias effort to fight global warming," reads a Friends of Earth statement. "Todays EPA decision is a major setback in the global warming fight and a slap in the face to all of the states that have moved forward when the federal government would not. This decision cements the United States reputation as the nation that is holding the rest of the world back at a time when our leadership is desperately needed. One can only hope that the next administration will play a more constructive role.
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