EPA to Let Calif. Set Own Auto Emissions Limits

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday granted California's request to set its own limits on greenhouse gases from autos -- a long-sought victory with limited impact now that the federal government has pledged to impose national limits.

That decision grants California a waiver to impose a limit on the emissions from new cars, when no such rules now exist in federal law. The EPA reversed a decision by the Bush administration, which rejected California's waiver request in March 2008.

The District and 13 states, including Maryland, have pledged to adopt California's new rules as their own.

Automakers selling in these states will be required to reduce new cars' average emissions by 5 percent in 2010, by 14 percent by 2011, and by 20 percent by 2012, said Tom Cackette, a deputy director of the California Air Resources Board.

But a White House announcement in May drained this decision of much of its meaning.

President Obama pledged that, beginning in 2012, the federal government would impose its own limits on tailpipe emissions. California officials agreed to accept the federal standards, which Obama said will require cars and light trucks to average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.

That means that the practical impact of yesterday's decision will mostly come between now and 2012, when the federal regulations kick in.

And car manufacturers said that they had already planned to make most of the required changes: Charles Territo of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said the decision would not make cars more expensive or harder to find.

"This issue was largely decided last month," Territo said. "I think most viewed this announcement as largely symbolic."

California, which began regulating air pollution before the federal government, has long had special dispensation under the Clean Air Act to set tougher rules for air pollution.

But, after approving dozens of past waivers for California, the EPA under Bush rejected this one outright, saying that the state's problems with climate change were not unique.

An EPA official, briefing reporters by telephone yesterday, said the Obama administration examined the matter in a different legal light. It looked at California's broader need to regulate air pollutants in general, including greenhouse gases from cars, and found that auto-related pollution was indeed a "compelling and extraordinary" threat, the official said.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company