Wednesday, January 02, 2008

EPA Denies California GHG Vehicles Emission Rule Waiver

Dec 19: U.S. EPA announced that the Bush Administration is moving forward with a national solution to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from American vehicles. The Agency said that the new energy legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Bush this week [See WIMS 12/14/07] provides a federal fuel economy standard that offers environmental benefits, energy security and economic certainty for the nation. Simultaneously, the Agency denied the State of California's request for a waiver that would have allowed it and 16 other states to adopt the California-equivalent rules to curb GHG emission from vehicles. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said, "The Bush Administration is moving forward with a clear national solution -- not a confusing patchwork of state rules -- to reduce America’s climate footprint from vehicles. President Bush and Congress have set the bar high, and, when fully implemented, our federal fuel economy standard will achieve significant benefits by applying to all 50 states.”

EPA said it had determined that a unified Federal standard of 35 miles per gallon will deliver significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks in all 50 states, which would be more effective than a partial state-by-state approach of 33.8 miles per gallon. On November 8, 2007, California sued EPA, to force the Agency to take action on its request to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from motor vehicles [See WIMS 11/8/07]. Also, on December 12, 2007, a Federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California rejected an auto industry lawsuit challenging the California-equivalent rules requiring [See WIMS 12/13/07].

EPA said that California’s current waiver request was distinct from all prior requests. The Agency said, "Previous waiver petitions covered pollutants that predominantly impacted local and regional air quality. Greenhouse gases are fundamentally global in nature, which is unlike the other air pollutants covered by prior California waiver requests. These gases contribute to the challenge of global climate change affecting every state in the union. Therefore, according to the criteria in section 209 of the Clean Air Act, EPA did not find that separate California standards are needed to 'meet compelling and extraordinary conditions.'” The Clean Air Act requires EPA to follow a process when determining waiver requests. EPA must provide a public comment and hearing opportunity. The statute also provides three very specific criteria that EPA should evaluate for any California waiver petition.

EPA held two hearings on the waiver request and the comment period began April 30 and closed June 15, 2007. EPA said it reviewed more than 100,000 written comments and thousands of pages of technical and scientific documentation received during the public comment period. The comments represented a wide scope of interests including those of states and localities, public health and environmental groups, academia, industry and private citizens.

EPA indicated that the two primary approaches for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles are increasing the fuel economy of vehicles and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their fuel. The Agency said the recently signed energy bill (H.R. 6, now Public Law No: 110-140) addresses both approaches by increasing the fuel economy from vehicles to 35 miles per gallon, an increase of forty percent, as well as increasing the amount of renewable fuel used to 36 billion gallons, nearly a five-fold increase.

California Attorney General Edmund Brown Jr. blasted EPA's rejection of the State's waiver request saying, “It is completely absurd to assert that California does not have a compelling need to fight global warming by curbing greenhouse gas emissions from cars. There is absolutely no legal justification for the Bush administration to deny this request -- Governor Schwarzenegger and I are preparing to sue at the earliest possible moment.” Brown said under the Clean Air Act, California can adopt stricter standards by requesting a waiver from EPA and such requests have been approved more than 50 times in the past. California’s law requires a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions standards from motor vehicles by 2016. The Attorney General said the 16 other states impacted by the decision -- Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington -- have adopted, or are in the process of adopting California’s emissions standards. Other reports also list Iowa, making a total of 17 additional states.

On December 21, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Johnson saying, "The actions of the EPA in denying the California request cannot help but raise serious questions about the support of the Bush Administration for state efforts to safeguard the environment and the health of their residents. As we discussed, your decision will be challenged immediately in the courts and will be carefully scrutinized by the Congress as well.” In her letter the Speaker said, "Surely you and others in the Bush Administration were aware that the Congress rejected requests from the Administration to waive the Environmental Protection Agency’s longstanding authority to regulate emissions and to grant states waivers under the Clean Air Act. Citing the passage of our new law as a justification for denying California’s request defies the legislative history as well as the explicit language of the 'Energy Independence and Security Act.'”

On December 20, Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) announced that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which he Chairs was launching an investigation and requested EPA to produce to the Committee "all responsive documents from your office by January 10, 2008. All responsive documents from the Office of Transportation and Air Quality
and the Office of General Counsel should be produced by January 17,2008, and all other responsive documents should be produced by January 23,2008." In his letter, Waxman said, "Your decision appears to have ignored the evidence before the agency and the requirements of the Clean Air Act. In fact, reports indicate that you overruled the unanimous recommendations of EPA's legal and technical staffs in rejecting California's petition."

Environmental groups also reacted, criticizing EPA's decision. Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense said, “This decision is like pulling over the fire trucks on their way to the blaze. For 40 years, EPA administrators have recognized the important role that California plays in innovating new standards to fight pollution.” Jim Marston, general counsel for Environmental Defense said, “New CAFE standards, if they go into effect, do not fully phase in until 2020. The California greenhouse gas limits will occur earlier -- beginning in 2009 and fully phased in by 2016. With the mounting evidence of climate change impacts occurring now, it is imperative that we are take action immediately.”

David Doniger, Climate Center Policy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said, "The EPA administrator claimed the new energy law sets a standard of 35 miles per gallon and thereby precludes California’s more effective standards. That is just plain wrong. The energy law only sets a fuel economy floor. It requires the administration to set standards of ‘at least 35 miles per gallon,’ expressly giving the administration the power to go farther. And the law expressly preserves California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set independent, stronger standards to meet the challenge of global warming. Let's be clear: the California standard is stronger and more effective than the 35-mile-per-gallon floor established in the new energy law."

Access an EPA release (click here). Access an EPA fact sheet on the CA waiver decision (click here). Access a release from the CA AG (click here). Access a release from Speaker Pelosi and a copy of the letter to EPA (click here). Access the letter from Representative Waxman (click here). Access a lengthy release and link to additional information from Environmental Defense (click here). Access a release from NRDC (click here). Access a release from Sierra Club (click here). Access PL 110-140 (click here). Access the 12/12/07 57-page CA Federal Court order (click here). [*Climate, *Energy]