UPDATE 2-US EPA approves California auto emissions standard

Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:38pm EDT

* Aimed at cutting greenhouse emissions from vehicles

* Dovetails with expected national standard in 2012

* EPA decision affects 14 U.S. states and Washington DC (Updates, adds detail throughout, adds byline)

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

WASHINGTON, June 30 (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Tuesday approved California's long-standing bid to set its own tough standards for vehicle emissions, a decision in tune with a national plan to boost fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases linked to climate change.

These standards are immediately effective for California and for 13 other states and Washington D.C., which have adopted the same standards, officials at the Environmental Protection Agency said.

By granting this request, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it recognized California's need for a tight emissions program that included limits on climate-warming gases.

National standards match California's goal for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2016. The EPA waiver allows the state to enforce standards for 2009-2011, before the federal targets take effect, but manufacturers should have little difficulty making the goals.

California also has a host of other vehicle regulations, from car windows that reflect more sun to cut air conditioning loads to checks on tire pressure.

In a brief statement, EPA said this decision marked a return to the "traditional legal interpretation of the Clean Air Act," an apparent swipe at the Bush administration, which balked at granting this waiver and at imposing any mandatory economy-wide limits on climate-warming emissions.

The announcement came just four days after legislation aimed at curbing climate change was narrowly approved by the U.S. House (of Representatives), and more than a month after Obama ordered the struggling auto industry to cut emissions and improve gas mileage on May 19.

"LAW AND SCIENCE"

"This decision puts the law and science first. After review of the scientific findings, and another comprehensive round of public engagement, I have decided this is the appropriate course under the law," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement.

California first requested the normally routine Clean Air Act waiver from EPA in 2005. The request was denied by the Bush administration in 2008.

Shortly after taking office in January, Obama directed EPA to revisit the denial.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California hailed the EPA decision: "After being asleep at the wheel for over two decades, the federal government has finally stepped up and granted California its nation-leading tailpipe emissions waiver."

Schwarzenegger said this would spur his state's emerging green economy, create new jobs and "bring Californians the cars they want while reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

Governors from the other affected states offered similar plaudits, such as New York Gov. David Paterson's statement: "The decision is living proof that there is new leadership in Washington."

The American Petroleum Institute, a key oil industry interest group, was critical: "Using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases would impose costly requirements for hundreds of thousands of businesses, large and small, as well as schools, offices and buildings across the United States."

Environmentalists were jubilant. David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a blog:

"These national standards will be a win for everyone. We'll have cleaner cars that cut dangerous global warming pollution nationwide ... The car makers will get the practical national uniformity they've been craving. And we'll help them get back to health by making cars that fit the market in a world of higher oil prices and global warming."

(Additional reporting by Ayesha Rascoe and John Crawley in Washington, Peter Henderson in San Francisco; Editing by David Storey)

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