Battle Heats Up Over Emissions

California Attorney General Jerry Brown testifies at the hearing. He said global warming is
California Attorney General Jerry Brown testifies at the hearing. He said global warming is "a worldwide crisis." (By Mark Wilson -- Getty Images)
By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pressure mounted on the Bush administration yesterday to allow states to impose their own regulations on vehicle emissions.

At a hearing yesterday, officials from California and other states urged the Environmental Protection Agency to grant California a waiver from federal controls so it could apply its stringent emissions standards.

In New York, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R) took his own action to curb emissions from his city's 13,000 taxis. Bloomberg proposed a plan yesterday to replace the entire taxicab fleet with hybrid vehicles by 2012. He said the changeover would be phased in, with 1,000 hybrid taxicabs by October 2008 and 4,000 by October 2009.

At an EPA hearing in Washington, California Attorney General Jerry Brown called on EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson to approve a waiver so California could enact rules to require a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2016.

Brown said the state is prepared to sue the EPA if the waiver is blocked. "This is a worldwide crisis," Brown said. "There's no excuse any longer." Brown also appeared at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the same subject.

If California is granted a waiver, other states would be allowed under the federal Clean Air Act to adopt California's rules. So far, 11 states have enacted laws to follow California. Officials from Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Pennsylvania and New York also spoke in favor of the waiver yesterday.

The hearing was part of the EPA's formal waiver-request process. A second public hearing is scheduled for May 30 in Sacramento. The EPA will then issue a ruling, but it was not clear when a final decision would come. Environmentalists say they fear the Bush administration would put off a decision until late in 2008.

"Technically, the decision is going to be made by the EPA," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. "In reality, we all know it's going to be made in the White House."

Steven Douglas, director of environmental affairs of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, called a waiver unnecessary and counterproductive. The alliance, the chief auto-industry lobbying group, has sued California in state and federal court to block its proposed standards. Douglas said new standards could lead to a "patchwork of state and federal rules" on fuel economy. He said automakers are at work on new technology to curb global warming, including the rollout of ethanol-powered vehicles and gas-electric hybrids.

The alliance has long argued that California's emissions rules are so strict that they would cause extensive design changes to new vehicles, driving up prices and crippling car sales. Douglas said the carmakers had to take into account safety, performance and cargo space in combination with improved fuel economy.

Environmentalist groups, state regulators and the auto industry have engaged in legal and political fights around the country over car pollution and global warming. California last year sued six automakers over global warming, claiming that car and truck emissions injure the state's environment and economy and endanger public health. In April, the U.S. Supreme Court handed environmentalists a victory when it ruled that the EPA violated the Clean Air Act by declining to regulate global-warming pollution from vehicles.

The 2002 California emissions rule, known as the Pavley law, represents a landmark in efforts by environmentalists to get the government to regulate greenhouse gases from cars. Fran Pavley, who was a California assemblywoman when she wrote the original rule, testified at the EPA hearing in support of the waiver.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company