The Bush administration served up a holiday helping of coal and switches on December 19 when the Environmental Protection Agency denied California and 16 other states the right to adopt stricter automobile emissions standards than federal rules require. In rejecting California's request for a waiver from the feds to implement tougher standards, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said the California rules were preempted by federal authority and rendered unnecessary by passage of a new energy bill earlier this week.
California has previously been granted more than 50 waivers under the Clean Air Act to impose its own strict pollution rules, and this week's first-ever denial is widely seen as a sop to the auto industry for not opposing the energy bill. Officials from the 17 states poised to adopt California Clean Car legislation and numerous environmental groups including the Sierra Club say they will sue to overturn the edict, which flies in the face of a decision earlier this fall granting states the right to enact the California standards.
"The EPA has the law dead wrong," says Sierra Club attorney David Bookbinder, above, who is confident of a favorable decision on appeal. "The good news is that this action will be overturned by the courts, Congress, or the next administration, so in 18 months we can be back on track. The bad news is the next 18 months are very important to begin limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Hopefully we have those 18 months."
Learn more about the Sierra Club's clean car campaign.
Editor's note: The day after this story broke, it was revealed that EPA Administrator Johnson had overruled the unanimous opinion of his legal and technical staff in denying California's waiver request. House Oversight and Governance Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Los Angleles, has launched a probe into why Johnson denied the waiver over his staff's recommendations. EPA's legal team reportedly prepared a PowerPoint presentation advising Johnson to grant the waiver, but an EPA spokesperson says the agency is now "unable to find that document." President Bush, a longtime and vocal proponent of states rights, praised Johnson's decision.