Wednesday, July 01, 2009

EPA Issues "California Waiver" For Vehicle GHG Controls

Jun 30: After years of intense legal and political wrangling, U.S. EPA is granting California’s waiver request enabling the state to enforce its greenhouse gas emissions standards for new motor vehicles, beginning with the current model year. EPA said, "Using the law and science as its guide, EPA has taken this action to tackle air pollution and protect human health."

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, “This decision puts the law and science first. After review of the scientific findings, and another comprehensive round of public engagement, I have decided this is the appropriate course under the law. This waiver is consistent with the Clean Air Act as it’s been used for the last 40 years and supports the prerogatives of the 13 states and the District of Columbia who have opted to follow California’s lead. More importantly, this decision reinforces the historic agreement on nationwide emissions standards developed by a broad coalition of industry, government and environmental stakeholders earlier this year.”

The first California waiver request was made in December 2005 and was subsequently denied in March 2008. This previous decision was based on a Bush-era interpretation of the Clean Air Act finding that California did not have a need for its greenhouse gas emission standards to meet “compelling and extraordinary conditions.” California made its request for a waiver of federal preemption under CAA Section 209(b), to permit enforcement of the State's new motor vehicle emission standards to control greenhouse gas emissions adopted in September 2005. The State subsequently submitted its waiver request to EPA in December that year.

Shortly after taking office in January, President Barack Obama directed EPA to assess the appropriateness of denying the waiver. EPA received a letter from California on January 21, 2009, raising several issues for Administrator Jackson to review regarding the denial. Last month, President Obama announced a first-ever national policy aimed at both increasing fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas pollution for all new cars and trucks sold in the United States [See WIMS 5/19/09]. The new standards would cover model years 2012-2016. When the national program takes effect, California has committed to allowing automakers who show compliance with the national program to also be deemed in compliance with state requirements.

In a release, EPA indicated that with the decision to grant the California waiver, the Agency returns to its traditional legal interpretation of the Clean Air Act that has been applied consistently during the past 40 years. EPA finds that California continues to have a need for its motor vehicle emissions program, including the greenhouse gas standards. EPA also finds that the California program meets legal requirements regarding the protectiveness of public health and welfare as well as technological feasibility.

EPA said it based its decision on an extensive record of scientific and technical evidence. As part of the reconsideration, EPA revisited the prior decision documents and record. The Agency also opened a new comment period, including public hearings. The Clean Air Act gives EPA the authority to allow California to adopt its own emission standards for new motor vehicles due to the seriousness of the State’s air pollution challenges. There is a long-standing history of EPA granting waivers to the State of California.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement on EPA's action saying, "After being asleep at the wheel for over two decades, the federal government has finally stepped up and granted California its nation-leading tailpipe emissions waiver. This decision is a huge step for our emerging green economy that will create thousands of new jobs and bring Californians the cars they want while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Thanks to the environmental commitment of President Obama and the continued leadership of state Senator Fran Pavley, California's long battle to reduce pollution from passenger vehicles is over, and a greener, cleaner future has finally arrived."

California is the only state under the Federal Clean Air Act, with the unique ability to set stricter-than-Federal standards for vehicles, as long as it gets a waiver from the Federal government. Once California receives a waiver from the Federal government, then other states can choose to adopt California's cleaner standards. Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia have adopted California's clean car standards. The thirteen other states, as of January 21, 2009, that have adopted California's standards include: Arizona, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

The California release includes comments from a number of the other state Governors. For example: Vermont Governor Jim Douglas said, "The Obama Administration's decision to grant California a waiver for its standards restricting greenhouse gas emission from motor vehicles is a significant step in the right direction for Vermont and other states that adopted these standards. My commitment to reducing carbon emissions in Vermont is longstanding as Vermont has been fighting to join California in adopting these standards for some time now. . . Auto emissions are one of the main contributors to greenhouse gas concentrations. This is particularly true in Vermont where the transportation sector accounts for approximately 45 percent of our carbon footprint. That is why reducing an emission from automobiles is so important here in Vermont."

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works issued a statement saying, "The granting of this waiver will unleash innovative technologies that will create millions of clean energy jobs as we move toward new cleaner and more efficient vehicles. It should be comforting to the American people to know that the Environmental Protection Agency is now putting science and the law back into the driver’s seat rather than politics and special interests. I commend the Obama Administration for doing what is right for the people of California, the environment and the many states in the union that intend to follow California’s lead in cleaning up tailpipe emissions.”

Dave McCurdy, president and CEO, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) said, "President Obama’s decision last month to create a single national program for greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy standards moves us toward a policy that ensures that consumers in all 50 states have access to highly fuel-efficient vehicles at an affordable price. We are hopeful the granting of this waiver will not undermine the enormous efforts put forth to create the national program. The President has succeeded in bringing three regulatory bodies, 15 states, a dozen automakers and many environmental groups to the table. The national program has launched a new beginning, a new chapter and a new era of cooperation. Automakers remain committed to working with all parties to further this single national program administered by the federal government."

AAM reported that EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have initiated efforts to issue a joint rulemaking that is intended to reflect a coordinated and harmonized approach to implementing the Clean Air Act and the Energy Policy and Conservation Act. The rulemaking is expected to begin shortly and be concluded by March 30, 2010 and will apply to vehicles from MY 2012-2016.

James Fine, economist and policy scientist at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said, "Cleaner cars are a trifecta that will save families money at the gas pump, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and cut global warming pollution from tailpipes." EDF issued a new report, Saving Fuel, Saving Money, Saving Our Climate, that compares automobile fleets under two scenarios for years 2010 through 2030. The first scenario is based on current and projected Federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards. The second scenario is based on implementation of California's vehicle greenhouse gas performance standards (i.e., Clean Car Standards) through 2020, with continued progress through 2030. The Clean Car Standards can be achieved using existing technologies, including: alternative fuels, advanced tire technology, engine adjustments and improved air conditioning systems. Fine said, "This study shows that once these standards go into effect in these states, drivers will save billions of dollars, while dramatically reducing global warming pollution from tailpipes, one of the major sources of global warming pollution."

Access a release and audio clips from U.S. EPA (
click here). Access EPA's CA Waiver website for extensive background information (click here). Access a release from Gov. Schwarzenegger that includes comments from other Governors (click here). Access a release from Sen. Boxer (click here). Access a release from AAM (click here). Access a release from EDF and link to the report (click here). For background information on the historical controversy see numerous WIMS-eNewsUSA blog posts (click here).