State sues over emissions limits

Md., 13 others want EPA to approve stricter standard

November 09, 2007|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,Sun reporter

Maryland joined California and a dozen other states yesterday in suing the Bush administration for failing to approve their programs to reduce global warming pollution from vehicles.

Maryland's General Assembly this spring approved a law called the Clean Cars Act that requires the state to follow California's lead in requiring all new cars to cut their carbon dioxide emissions by a third by 2016.

New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut and other states also want to follow California, which has unique authority under federal law to set vehicle emissions standards different than national limits, as long as it obtains a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. All other states must follow federal standards or, with a waiver, adopt California's regulations. The EPA has failed to act on the requests of the 14 states for waivers since December 2005.

"Politically, the Bush administration is sitting on its hands on this," said Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. "They are not that concerned with the global warming issue and the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and the car manufacturing lobby has come in strong [against] this."

Jennifer Wood, press secretary for the EPA, called that "an unfortunate mischaracterization" of what's going on.

EPA Administrator Steve Johnson has "repeatedly" told California officials that he intends to make a decision on the waiver request by the end of the year, Wood said.

"So we're talking about by two months from now, we'll have a decision," Wood said. "There is no standard period of time for a waiver request."

In the meantime, the EPA is writing its own regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, Wood said. And the Bush administration also plans to announce this proposal by the end of the year. She would not reveal any specifics, other than that the regulations would discuss carbon dioxide. "Stay tuned," Wood said.

This year, the EPA argued in response to a federal lawsuit filed by 12 states and Baltimore that the Bush administration did not have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide, and would not exercise that power even if it did.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April against the EPA, saying that the federal agency has the power to regulate carbon dioxide, which most scientists have concluded is causing global warming.

Two months ago, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warned the EPA that his state would sue if the agency continued to delay a decision on his proposal to cut vehicle emissions by a third.

"California has a long and proud history of leadership in reducing pollution," Schwarzenegger said in a news release yesterday. "And we are upholding that tradition today by filing a lawsuit against the federal government that takes a big step forward in the battle against global warming."

Automakers and dealers have fought the proposals in Maryland and other states to reduce carbon dioxide from tailpipes.

Some dealers have argued that the additional cost for new cars - estimated at about $1,000 - could hurt their sales.

Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group, said yesterday that California and other states should not be allowed to create a "patchwork quilt of regulations at the state level."

A federal program to regulate fuel economy makes more sense, McCurdy said in a written statement.

"California's lawsuit against the EPA is not helpful," McCurdy said. "[The] EPA must deliberately and thoroughly approach the questions raised by the waiver application."

Under the laws passed by California, Maryland and other states, automakers must cut the average emissions of all the cars they sell by 30 percent by 2016 or face fines.

To meet this goal, car companies may have to offer financial incentives to encourage people to buy fewer gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles and more hybrids, smaller cars and vehicles with better pollution controls.

tom.pelton@baltsun.com

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