WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration on Friday formally rejected California’s bid for a waiver from U.S. law to set its own tailpipe emissions standard to reduce global warming.
The Environmental Protection Agency released a regulatory notice signed by Administrator Stephen Johnson, canceling California’s plans to impose a state law that would have forced automakers to reduce emissions by making cars that achieve sharply higher gas mileage beginning next year.
The decision also affects 18 other states that wanted to adopt the measure.
The announcement was expected. Johnson had announced in December he would deny the waiver because the state’s pollution problems, in his view, did not merit special consideration.
“While I find that the conditions related to global climate change in California are substantial, they are not sufficiently different from conditions in the nation as a whole to justify separate state standards,” Johnson wrote.
He ruled against California even though internal documents released by Congress in January revealed that EPA staff concluded the agency would probably lose if the state went to court. California sued in January.
Environmental groups said the formal denial, which outlined the agency’s legal argument, was inexplicable.
“Johnson’s excuse that global warming is not unique to California is both factually and legally wrong,” said David Doniger, policy director for the National Resources Defense Council.
Doniger said no other state can claim the same “severe impacts” from smog, wildfires, water supply problems, and agricultural losses. “The combination and severity of these impacts makes California’s conditions compelling and extraordinary,” he said.
Environmental groups estimate the California standard, if applied nationally, would reduce greenhouse gases from new vehicles by 40 percent by 2020.
A new U.S. energy law, cited by Johnson in December as adequate to address national pollution concerns, would cut emissions by 31 percent over the same period, environmentalists said. Both measures would cut pollution by sharply increasing auto mileage targets.
Struggling U.S. auto manufacturers and overseas car companies have fought the California proposal, saying it would hurt their business, especially if adopted by other states.
Automakers said trying to meet both federal efficiency standards and another, stricter standard adopted by states would add huge production costs and increases prices.
The federal Clean Air Act allows California to enact pollution laws that are stricter than U.S. government standards in certain circumstances but only if the state receives EPA clearance first.
California has been granted waivers in the past, but Johnson said those were to address factors associated with local or regional pollution problems.
California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said the EPA decision would not stand up in court but would result in “more delay in cleaning up our air and tackling the challenge of global warming.”
Editing by Alan Elsner