In June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted California a waiver under the Clean Air Act to set tougher fuel economy standards than the federal government’s. This lawsuit is designed to prevent the state from moving ahead with these greenhouse gas emissions rules for cars and trucks. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and EPA have been preparing to release their first-ever joint regulations on fuel efficiency and emissions – and the lawsuit could threaten those plans.
The Clean Air Act allows California to set its own air-pollution rules, with EPA approval, and lets other states adopt the California standard. A state law passed in 2002 requires makers of cars sold in California to begin reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases with this year's models and cut those emissions 30 percent below 2002 levels by 2016.
The EPA had never rejected any state’s request for such approval until 2007, when the Bush administration said the problem should be addressed nationwide by new vehicle mileage requirements that were less demanding than California's. Soon after Obama's inauguration, the new president asked the EPA to reconsider the California waiver. The EPA's subsequent approval of the waiver will allow 13 other states and the District of Columbia to set their emissions standards.
In May, Obama announced an agreement with California officials, environmental groups and major automakers that would lead to the creation of a national vehicle emissions standard, similar to California’s, which would boost fuel-economy requirements 40% over the current 25-miles-per-gallon level. Scheduled to take effect in 2012, the standards will include the first nationwide criteria for emissions of greenhouse gases.
The lawsuit argues that the waiver sets a dangerous precedent of allowing a state to regulate what should be a national issue: global warming. The Chamber of Commerce made a similar argument in a brief supporting the Bush administration's decision to deny California's waiver request. If the USCC and NADA are successful in getting the appeals court to strike down the EPA ruling, it would not affect the DOT/EPA nationwide regulations directly. But, it could prohibit states from setting their own emissions regulations in the future.
"We are very disappointed that these parties continue to pursue an outdated course of action designed to obstruct and oppose efforts to move us toward a cleaner environment and greater energy security," said Mary Nichols of the California Air Resources Board.
The waiver lawsuit is probably the "leading edge" of a "hurricane of corporate challenges" to Obama's EPA, said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. "This may just be a delaying action by the chamber," he said. "But it does raise the stakes in this issue right away."
So far, no other major organizations have joined USCC and NADA in the lawsuit. Notably the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents major U.S. automakers, has stated that it shares the administration’s goal of reducing emissions. Given the amount of money the Obama administration has granted to the domestic auto companies, they may not want to oppose the administration on this issue.
Dan Becker, director of the Center for Auto Safety’s Safe Climate Campaign, said any such lawsuit is likely to be “a loser.” He added, “It’s not surprising that polluting industries would throw the kitchen sink to try to block the E.P.A. from controlling global warming pollution, but it is unfortunate.”
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