Md., other states file lawsuit over `clean car' laws

Action follows EPA refusal to grant waiver to allow legislation

January 03, 2008|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN REPORTER

Maryland joined California and 14 other states in suing the Bush administration yesterday for blocking state efforts to reduce global-warming pollution from cars and trucks.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last month that it would not grant a waiver to allow "clean cars" laws passed by Maryland and the other states. The announcement came a day after President Bush signed a law to increase average fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, up from the current 25 miles per gallon.

EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said the law made the state programs unnecessary.

But California Attorney General Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. led a group of states yesterday in a federal lawsuit to move forward with the state emissions restrictions.

"The EPA has done nothing at the national level to curb greenhouse gases and now it has wrongfully and illegally blocked California's landmark tailpipe emission standards, despite the fact that 16 states have moved to adopt them," Brown said.

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler argued that it's an unfair denial of states' rights for the federal government to try to thwart state pollution control laws.

"Each state ought to be able to implement its will - and if a state wants to have more stringent standards, it ought to be able to do that," said Gansler.

The EPA said that a federal program makes more sense for a broad-ranging problem like greenhouse-gas pollution.

"We now have a more beneficial national approach to a national problem which establishes an aggressive standard for all 50 states," said agency spokesman Jonathan Shradar in an e-mailed statement.

California officials estimate that their program - copied by Maryland and other states - would achieve almost twice the greenhouse gas cuts as the federal fuel-efficiency standards.

The California program requires a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emission from new cars and trucks by 2016, as a fleetwide average. That requirement would mean reductions of about 45 million metric tons of pollution a year, compared with 23 million tons under the federal standards, said Stanley Young, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board.

The 1963 federal Clean Air Act granted California unique authority to set emissions standards tougher than the federal rules.

Other states, including Maryland, have the choice of following California's standards or adopting the more relaxed federal limits. But California must get a waiver from the EPA each time that it sets a new standard. Over the past four decades, the federal agency had never denied a waiver in more than 40 requests - until last month.

Following more than a dozen mostly Northeastern states, Maryland passed a "clean cars" law last year that mirrors California's goal of cutting global-warming pollution by new cars by a third.

Maryland environmental Secretary Shari T. Wilson said yesterday that federal fuel-efficiency standards for engines should complement, but not replace, state limits on pollution from tailpipes.

"We've always had fuel-efficiency requirements, but that doesn't mean we also don't have regulatory programs to control emissions from vehicles," Wilson said. "This is a sudden change in course [by the federal government], and it's really perplexing."

tom.pelton@baltsun.com

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