By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 25, 2008
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) joined other governors and several U.S. senators yesterday in criticizing a recent decision by the Environmental Protection Agency blocking California and effectively a host of other states from cutting greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.
Testifying before the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, O'Malley said Maryland had been prepared to follow California's lead and cut vehicle emissions about 30 percent by 2016. But now that plan is in limbo, O'Malley said, because California was denied an EPA waiver required to set its own emissions standards.
"I find this decision . . . shameful, outrageous and irresponsible," O'Malley said. "It amounts, in essence, to the EPA saying to the states, 'How dare you make greater progress against climate change' " than the federal government?
During the hearing, there were contentious exchanges between senators and EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, who was making his first appearance on Capitol Hill since announcing the decision Dec. 19.
"The federal government is not doing nearly enough to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) told Johnson. "It should, at the very least, stay out of the road that many state governments are taking."
Two senators said they believed the decision was based on a desire to protect businesses instead of the environment.
"You're going against your own agency's mission," said Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the committee chairman. "And you're fulfilling the mission of some special interests."
Boxer introduced a bill yesterday that would direct the EPA to reverse its decision.
Johnson said his decision complies with the Clean Air Act. To set its own standards, he said, California needed to prove that it had a "compelling and extraordinary" problem.
But greenhouse gases -- and the climate change they cause -- are a global problem, Johnson said. So California does not have its own "extraordinary" need.
"My job is to make the right decision, not the easy decision," Johnson said. "This challenge is not exclusive or unique to California."
Johnson faced one Republican, Sen. James M. Inhofe (Okla.), and up to eight Democrats or independents. Senators interrogated Johnson about his beliefs on climate change. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) wanted to know if he believed global warming posed a "serious problem" for human health. Johnson said the EPA has not made an official determination.
Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) asked whether "bold action" was needed to reverse warming. Johnson said there should be "action."
" Bold action?" Sanders asked.
"As I said, action," Johnson replied.
Johnson's decision on the California waiver is causing controversy because of a quirk in U.S. air pollution policy. For many years, California officials were able to set more stringent standards for other pollutants, as long as the EPA granted permission. In dozens of previous instances, it had.
In this instance, Johnson denied California's request, despite advice from EPA staff. Aides wrote in a PowerPoint presentation that the EPA is "likely to lose suit" if California's waiver is rejected.
On Jan. 2, the EPA was sued by California and 15 other states.
Governors from three of those states -- O'Malley, Pennsylvania's Edward G. Rendell (D) and Vermont's Jim Douglas (R) -- participated in yesterday's hearing.
In Maryland, O'Malley said, potential harms of climate change could include sea-level rise and the loss of heat-sensitive grasses in the Chesapeake Bay. He told the panel that there is a demand in his state for faster action.
"The people of Maryland do not understand why on earth would we not do this before the Chesapeake Bay is irreparably damaged," he said.