Crist blasts EPA's ruling
The agency says no to 17 states that want to impose tougher auto emission standards.
By CRAIG PITTMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 21, 2007
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson turned down California, thus blocking Florida and the rest of the states that had followed California's lead.
Gov. Charlie Crist joined colleagues across the nation Thursday in condemning a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to block states from imposing tougher auto emission rules than the EPA requires.
Crist said he will "consider taking them to court, too, and suing on behalf of Florida's citizens."
Crist's remarks came after California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed legal action against the Bush administration to overturn the decision.
At his global warming summit in July, Crist signed three executive orders aimed at cutting Florida's greenhouse gas emissions. One of those mandated tough new standards for vehicles sold in Florida. State environmental officials have held two public workshops on the new rules and hoped to finalize them next year.
The new standards, copied from California, would have forced automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016, with the cutbacks to begin in 2009 models.
Two years ago, California sought a waiver from the EPA to impose those tough new standards. Florida and 15 other states concerned about how tailpipe emissions affect global warming were hoping to follow California's lead.
Together, those 17 states account for about half the U.S. population. California officials said imposing the new rules in those 17 states would remove an amount of greenhouse gases equal to taking 22-million vehicles off American roads.
Crist has contended that states such as Florida, facing the greatest risk from sea level rise and other ramifications of climate change, should do all they can to cut greenhouse gases.
"We think states have rights," Crist said in an interview Thursday, "and if we want to, we should have the ability to take the lead on climate change."
If the EPA had approved the California waiver, those 17 states would effectively set a new national standard for the auto industry without going through the lengthy federal rule-making process.
EPA officials have been extremely reluctant to clamp down on greenhouse gas emissions, even arguing to the Supreme Court earlier this year that the agency lacked authority to regulate them as a pollutant. The Supreme Court disagreed.
For two years the EPA failed to take action on California's waiver request, until at last the state sued to force a decision. California officials then complained that EPA's decisionmaking process was tainted by political influence.
Documents revealed that Transportation Secretary Mary Peters led a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign aimed at urging members of Congress to call the EPA and oppose the waiver request.
The auto industry strongly opposed allowing the states to set their own standards, even meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney recently, according to the Detroit News.
Late Wednesday, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson turned down California, thus blocking Florida and the rest of the states that had followed California's lead.
Johnson announced his decision at a news conference at 6:30 p.m., after most broadcast networks had finished their nightly news programs.
Johnson said the energy bill that Congress passed last week made the California standards unnecessary because the new law would raise fuel economy standards for the first time in 20 years.
Under the new law, fuel efficiency for new cars and light trucks will increase 40 percent by 2020, for a fleetwide average of 35 miles per gallon.
California officials said the state standards would have taken effect sooner and produced even higher fuel economy results - as well as targeting greenhouse gas emissions, something not explicitly addressed by the energy bill.
President Bush said Thursday he agreed with Johnson's decision.
"Is it more effective to let each state make a decision as to how to proceed in curbing greenhouse gases, or is it more effective to have a national strategy?" Bush said. "The director in assessing this law and assessing what would be more effective for the country said we now have a national plan."
Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and other governors from both parties condemned the EPA ruling as a triumph of politics over science.
Connecticut's Republican Gov. Jody Rell, for instance, called Johnson's decision "frankly laughable," while New Mexico's Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson said it showed "a complete lack of legal, moral and policy leadership on climate change."
Legal experts said a lawsuit by the states might stand a good chance of overturning Johnson's ruling, even as Democrats in Congress announced an investigation into what influenced Johnson to reject California's request - the first such rejection out of more than 50 prior requests for waivers.
"This decision baffles me - it makes no legal sense at all," Bruce Buckheit, who was director of the EPA's air-enforcement division until he retired in 2003, told the Christian Science Monitor.
The Washington Post, citing unnamed sources, reported that a slide presentation by agency lawyers to Johnson had warned that if the EPA rejected the waiver and California sued, the "EPA [is] likely to lose suit."
But if EPA granted the waiver and the auto industry sued, the lawyers' slide show said EPA would win, the Post reported.
Information from the Associated Press, New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle was used in this report.
- The 17 states seeking to impose their own emissions standards are California, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Arizona, Colorado and Utah.
- Together those 17 states constitute nearly half the U.S. population, and the new regulations would remove an amount of greenhouse gases equal to taking 22-million vehicles off the roads.
- The proposed standards would have forced automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016, with the cutbacks to begin in 2009 models.
- Vehicles account for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the nation.
- This was the first time EPA had completely denied California a Clean Air Act waiver request, after granting more than 50 previous requests.
[Last modified December 20, 2007, 22:18:37]
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