California will sue the Bush administration next week to demand action on a long-stalled request to let the state limit auto emissions of gases linked to global warming, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office said Friday.
"We've just waited too long" for a decision from the Environmental Protection Agency, said Schwarzenegger's press secretary, Aaron McLear.
The state asked the EPA in December 2005 for permission to enforce the California law, the model for statutes passed later in 11 other states. The EPA's approval is needed for California to implement a law more stringent than federal clean-air standards, and the agency has granted every such request California has made over the past 30 years.
The EPA held a public hearing in May and has promised a decision by the end of the year. But McLear said the state has run out of patience and will go to court Wednesday, the deadline that Schwarzenegger set in April.
"There's really no excuse at this point why we shouldn't be granted a waiver," McLear said. He said the state's case was strengthened in April when the U.S. Supreme Court, in a suit filed by California and other states against the EPA, "agreed with the rest of the world that greenhouse gas emissions are bad for the air."
The suit will be filed in a Washington, D.C., federal court, said state Attorney General Jerry Brown.
"The most prominent Republican governor suing the Bush administration sends a powerful message, which I hope will influence Congress" to pass global-warming legislation, Brown said in an interview.
Despite the EPA's assurances of an impending decision, he said, "they require continuous, persistent pressure."
EPA spokeswoman Jessica Emond said the agency is reviewing more than 100,000 written responses and thousands of pages of documents it received during the public comment period this spring and will act on the request by the end of the year.
The 2002 state law, the first of its kind in the nation, requires new motor vehicles sold in California to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which scientists consider a major contributor to climate change. The restrictions take effect with the 2009 models and increase to a 30 percent reduction from current levels by 2016.
Auto manufacturers have sued to overturn the law, arguing that the only way to cut greenhouse gas emissions is to increase vehicle miles per gallon, a subject that is regulated exclusively by the federal government.
A federal judge in Vermont rejected that argument last month and upheld a law that is identical to California's. The judge also rebuffed the companies' claims that it would be technically arduous and financially ruinous for them to comply with the law.
The California suit is pending before a federal judge in Fresno, who has scheduled a hearing for Nov. 19.
The U.S. Supreme Court also dealt automakers a blow in April when it ruled that greenhouse gases were air pollutants, covered by federal clean-air laws, and that the EPA must limit those emissions unless scientific evidence justifies a lack of regulation. The agency has not acted in response to the ruling, and President Bush has repeated his opposition to mandatory emission limits.
Major environmental groups, which have joined the state in defense of its law, have also served notice on the EPA that they intend to sue over the agency's delay on California's application to enforce the law. The recent court rulings have heightened the importance of the federal agency's impending decision, Sierra Club attorney David Bookbinder said Friday.
"The key issue is what decision EPA makes now on a waiver to uphold California's historical right to regulate air pollution," Bookbinder said. Under standards set by the federal Clean Air Act, he said, California unquestionably qualifies for a waiver.
E-mail Bob Egelko at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2007 The San Francisco Chronicle