Bold Leadership on Emissions

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

ONE SMALL step (tiny, really) taken last week by President Bush to regulate automobile emissions will be followed by one giant leap by California and 11 other states, including Maryland, at a hearing of the Environmental Protection Agency today. That's when the states will ask for EPA approval for their efforts to control the corrosive climate effects of tailpipe emissions.

California has been in the vanguard of the clean-air movement. Because its tough laws on pollution from motor vehicles predate those of the federal government, it has authority under the Clean Air Act to craft its own vehicle emissions regulations, as long as they are at least as stringent as the federal rules and aren't arbitrary. Other states can copy California's standards, but only after the EPA has signed off on California's rules. Every request by California has been granted -- more than 40 in three decades. But California's latest waiver request has been sitting at the EPA since December 2005. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has threatened to file a lawsuit if the EPA does not grant the waiver within six months. He'd be more than justified in suing.

The standard that California has proposed would slash emissions from cars and light trucks 30 percent by 2016, on a schedule starting with the 2009 model year. Carmakers have sued in three states to derail the efforts. But the states are right to move aggressively to stem the pernicious impact of greenhouse gases on Earth's climate. Mr. Bush's plan to deal with automobile emissions -- by order of the Supreme Court -- seems Lilliputian by comparison.

The court ruled that the EPA's claim that existing law did not authorize it to regulate greenhouse gases was bunk. So the president ordered the EPA and the departments of Energy, Transportation and Agriculture to come up with regulations using his "Twenty in Ten" plan -- that is, reduce the projected growth in gasoline consumption by 20 percent in 10 years.

The president said he wants the agencies to meet an end-of-2008 deadline. That's 19 months from now, mere weeks before Mr. Bush leaves office. After six years of foot-dragging and soft pedaling the problem, Mr. Bush should at least let California move forward.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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