U.S. blocks states on emissions

Maryland, other states sought stricter curbs

December 20, 2007|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN REPORTER

The Bush administration announced yesterday that it will block efforts by Maryland, California and 15 other states to cut emissions of global warming gases from cars and trucks.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said improved fuel efficiency standards passed Tuesday by the House of Representatives and signed yesterday by President Bush were good enough.

Those standards - which had not been raised in more than three decades - require new vehicles to have an average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, up from 25 miles per gallon today.

"This will produce some of the largest greenhouse gas cuts in our nation's history," Johnson said during a telephone news conference. "I believe this is a better approach than if individual states acted alone" to create "a patchwork of state rules."

Many environmentalists and Democrats praised Bush's signing of the fuel efficiency bill yesterday morning, in part because they knew that burning less gasoline would have the side effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes.

But they expressed outrage yesterday evening when the Bush administration used that bill-signing to justify blocking more stringent programs by California, Maryland and other states to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

The Maryland General Assembly in April followed California in passing a "clean cars" law that requires auto manufacturers to reduce the amount of global-warming gases coming from their fleets of vehicles by 30 percent by 2016.

But these laws - and identical laws also adopted by New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and several other states, covering about half the U.S. population -- require an EPA waiver. That waiver was denied yesterday.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and California Attorney General Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., both Democrats, were among those who vowed to sue the Republican administration to overturn the denial and move ahead with their "clean cars" laws.

Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesman for O'Malley, said the "clean cars" law is "very important" to O'Malley, who believes that Maryland must take direct action against climate change.

"It would seem in this case that the Bush administration has decided that the corporate interests outweigh interests of a number of states in our country," Abbruzzese said. "It also seems they have put corporate interests over protecting our environment."

Shari Wilson, Maryland's secretary of the environment, said: "The program of Maryland and the other states is better than the federal program. ... It's an important issue because Maryland and other states have taken the right steps to make sure we get vehicle emission reductions sooner."

More than 2,500 scientists from 130 countries in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded earlier this year that scientists are more than 90 percent certain that human industry is causing global warming.

The U.S. Supreme Court reached a similar conclusion in April, ruling that climate change is happening and that the EPA has the power to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

"The harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in the majority opinion. "A strong consensus among qualified experts indicates that global warming threatens ... a precipitate rise in sea levels, severe and irreversible changes to natural ecosystems ... and increases in the spread of disease and the ferocity of weather events."

The court ordered the EPA to either begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions itself, or come up with a legally justifiable explanation for why it thinks these gases do not contribute to global warming.

The EPA's Johnson did neither in his press conference yesterday, and instead said that he'd decided to deny California's 2005 request for a waiver to create its own greenhouse gas regulations.

Johnson said that climate change is an issue that should be handled at the federal level, not by the states. "Greenhouses are fundamentally global in nature," Johnson said. "Unlike pollutants ... greenhouse gases harm the environment in California and elsewhere regardless of where they originate."

By blocking California's vehicle emission rules, the EPA is effectively stopping Maryland's identical "Clean Cars" law and those adopted by 11 other states and sought by four others.

Decades ago, Congress granted California - long plagued by air pollution - unique authority among states to set vehicle emission standards that are tighter than the federal standards.

Other states, such as Maryland, by law can either follow California's tighter rules or the more relaxed federal rules, but they can't set their own vehicle standards. But California needs to get a waiver from the EPA every time it sets a new standard.

Brown, the California attorney general and former governor there, said in a press release that the EPA has granted waivers to California more than 50 times in the past. This denial cannot be justified, he said.

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