Members urge EPA to allow California's emissions limit rule

Following the publication of research suggesting that Earth may be near its warmest average temperature in a million years, more than 100 lawmakers urged the Environmental Protection Agency to allow California to go ahead with new greenhouse gas limits on cars and trucks.

The proposed emissions standards have sparked a court fight between the state and automakers, which have said the state is exceeding its regulatory authority by effectively imposing mileage standards on cars and trucks.

But the letter sent Tuesday says EPA should approve California’s new rule because the Clean Air Act of 1970 allows the state to develop its own standards on auto emissions, so long as those standards aren’t less stringent than federal standards.

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Clean Air Watch also urged EPA to grant a waiver in a separate letter also sent Tuesday.

The EPA has not indicated when it might make a decision about the waiver.

California’s new standards start with the 2009 model year and are to be phased in over a period of eight years. The letter says the standards would cut “global warming pollution from new vehicles by almost 30 percent” by 2016.

The California rules, though, are important not only because of the size and economic power of that state. Other states cannot develop their own emissions rules, but they can choose California’s over the federal government’s.

Ten states plan to implement the California rule if it goes forward. In total, the states account for one-third of the cars and trucks bought in the United States, according to the letter.

Given the stakes, the automobile industry has sued California, saying state regulators effectively are trying to impose mileage standards that are the sole responsibility of the federal government. Federal regulators should maintain that authority, automakers argue, because they have more expertise determining how mileage standard changes will impact the safety of cars and trucks.

In a section to new light truck mileage standard developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2005, federal regulators argued that states did not have the right to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, a key global warming contributor, because doing so amounts to imposing mileage standards.

Federal regulators were reacting to California’s regulation.

California officials contend that they have the authority of the Clean Air Act, which splits responsibility between the federal government and California when it comes to emissions from motor vehicles.

Because of the way the law is written, however, California has to apply for a waiver to the federal standard.

An aide to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who spearheaded the letter with New York Republican Sherwood Boehlert (R), said the waiver is typically a fait accompli. Only a few times in the past 30 years has a waiver not been granted, the source said.

“There is no basis for EPA to treat this request differently,” the letter states.

It added: “Global warming poses a serious threat to California as it will worsen air quality, threaten water supplies for people and agriculture, and damage important ecological systems.”

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, supports his state’s emissions rules, but no California Republican member of Congress signed the letter.

Several other Republicans did, including endangered members such as Reps. Chris Shays and Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, and David Reichart of Washington. Charles Bass of New Hampshire also signed the letter.

Researchers announced Monday that the Earth’s temperature was within one degree Celsius of the maximum mean temperature over the last million years.

The study was published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

Jennifer Wood, EPA press secretary, said the agency would issue a public notice and hold a public hearing to take comment prior to ruling on the waiver request. Meanwhile, Wood added that the administration has spent $26 billion on climate change science, technology and tax incentive programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.