States challenge car emissions ruling

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - California and 15 other U.S. states on Wednesday sought to overturn a Bush administration decision in December that denied California’s attempt to set tough new standards for auto emissions.

Vehicular traffic flows on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California January 2, 2008. California and 15 other U.S. states on Wednesday sought to overturn a Bush administration decision in December that denied California's attempt to set tough new standards for auto emissions. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

The legal challenge, which was widely expected, returns the matter to the courts where states have had success recently in the long-running effort to force the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) hand in the fight against global warming.

“The EPA has done nothing at the national level to curb greenhouse gases and now it has wrongfully and illegally blocked California’s landmark tailpipe emissions standards, despite the fact that 16 states have moved to adopt them,” said Jerry Brown, California’s attorney general.

California filed the suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco. Fifteen other states joined the case in a separate motion filed by New York. California officials believe the courts will act swiftly.

On December 19, the EPA rejected California’s bid for a waiver from U.S. law that would allow it to impose emissions restrictions that are tougher than federal standards. California has for years been permitted to set its own targets on pollutants and has received EPA waivers in other cases. This is the first bid to limit carbon emissions from autos.

The waiver application was based on a 2002 law that would force automakers, beginning with the next model year, to reduce emissions by 30 percent over the next eight years -- a big cut that would be magnified if other states followed suit.

In rejecting the waiver, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson cited newly enacted federal standards to boost automobile fuel efficiency as robust and comprehensive.

“We now have a more beneficial national approach to a national problem,” the agency said in a statement in response to the California suit.

Critics of the EPA decision, however, said the California measure would do more, sooner.

“The new fuel economy law enacted in December expressly preserves California’s right to go farther under the Clean Air Act. It sets a floor, not a ceiling,” said David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.


The new U.S. energy law would require autos average 35 mpg by 2020, a 40 percent efficiency increase that could cut greenhouse gasses by 30 percent. The California law would boost mileage goals to more than 40 mpg by 2016.

Automakers lobbied the administration to reject the California proposal, arguing a mix of state and federal rules would be too complex. Industry mainly fears substantial cost increases associated with sharp efficiency improvements for vehicles.

“There is now a national law in place to dramatically reduce carbon dioxide from autos. California benefits from that federal law,” U.S. and international automakers said through their trade group, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Other states in the case were: Massachusetts, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

(Additional reporting by Jason Szep, Timothy Gardner and Nichola Groom)

Reporting by John Crawley; Editing by Cynthia Osterman.