Climate Change Malpractice

Monday, December 24, 2007

THE INK was barely dry on the energy bill signed by President Bush last week when Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson used it as a wobbly crutch to deny California's request to institute tough tailpipe emissions regulations. "The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules, to reduce America's climate footprint from vehicles," he said. Bad call.

Carmakers understandably prefer the predictability of a national standard. But the alternative that the EPA rejected is no "patchwork." California and 16 other states, including Maryland, want to set a higher standard. Together they account for 45 percent of the sales of new vehicles in the United States, more than the entire Japanese car market. Detroit could meet the standard, which would require more rapid progress toward higher fuel economy than Congress has mandated. It just doesn't want to, and Mr. Bush is content to act as an enabler.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to sue to overturn the EPA decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The Clean Air Act allows the Golden State to craft its own air-quality rules and allows other states to adopt them, as long as they are not arbitrary and capricious and are at least as tough as the federal standards. All that's needed for the regulations to take effect is an EPA waiver. But the EPA has discretion to deny a waiver if it finds that California doesn't face a "need to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions." So the administration may defend its decision on the grounds that the threat to California is no greater than to the rest of the country. Still, Post staff writer Juliet Eilperin reported, the EPA's lawyers and policy staff warned that if the waiver were denied, the agency would lose a Schwarzenegger lawsuit. We hope that they're right.

The larger point is the irrationality of blocking an initiative that would help slow climate change. Global warming is a compelling and extraordinary condition that demands both federal and state action. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that if action is not taken within the next decade the effects may be irreversible. The United States has been the largest emitter of greenhouse gases with a strong assist from California, which would be among the top 10 economies of the world were it a separate nation.

In its "U.S. Climate Action Report -- 2006," when the administration was doing its annual airbrushing of its own inaction, the State Department actually listed the California initiative as one of the "key activities conducted by the U.S." Talk about nerve. This is one more example of Mr. Bush's say-one-thing-do-another brand of environmentalism.

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