WASHINGTON - Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Stephen Johnson on Wednesday denied California's petition to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and trucks, overruling the unanimous recommendation of the agency's legal and technical staffs.
California officials vowed to fight the decision in court.
A total of 18 states, including Washington, have either adopted or pledged to implement California's proposed tailpipe-emissions rules, which seek to cut vehicles' greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 percent between 2009-16.
Johnson said the higher fuel-economy standards and increased renewable-fuel requirements in the energy bill President Bush signed into law Wednesday will do more to address global warming than imposing tailpipe rules in individual states.
"The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules, to reduce America's climate footprint from vehicles," Johnson said.
The new mileage standard mandated by Congress is aimed at reducing gasoline consumption, which will reduce vehicles' overall "carbon footprint," but California's rules would target total greenhouse-gas emissions, including those that stem from vehicle air-conditioning units. Experts said tailpipe regulations are a more comprehensive way to address vehicles' contribution to greenhouse gases.
Johnson said California standards would produce a mileage average of 33.8 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2016, while the new federal energy law would require an average fleet fuel economy of 35 mpg by 2020. California officials said EPA miscalculated, estimating that its emissions standard would achieve an average of at least 36 mpg by 2016.
California, which is allowed under the Clean Air Act to set its own air-pollution policies as long as it obtains an exemption from the federal government, had never been denied a waiver in the act's 37-year history.
The EPA decision effectively kills Washington state's attempt to follow California's lead with rules forcing automakers to start cutting greenhouse-gas emissions from new cars sold in Washington starting in 2009.
Washington's Legislature adopted the California rules in 2005.
Even if states prevail in court, it would surely postpone the start of stricter greenhouse-gas standards, said Stuart Clark, head of the state Department of Ecology's air-quality branch.
Environmentalists and state officials lambasted the EPA decision and pledged to sue to overturn it. In the past three months, federal judges in Vermont and California have twice rebuffed automakers' attempts to block state tailpipe regulations.
"Governor Schwarzenegger and I are preparing to sue at the earliest possible moment," California Attorney General Jerry Brown said, saying the Bush administration had no legal justification to deny the state's request.
EPA's lawyers and policy staff had reached the same conclusion, said several agency officials familiar with the process. In a presentation prepared for the administrator, aides wrote that if Johnson denied the waiver and California sued, "EPA likely to lose suit."
If he allowed California to proceed and automakers sued, the staff wrote, "EPA is almost certain to win."
The technical and legal staffs cautioned Johnson against blocking California's tailpipe standards, the sources said, and recommended that he either grant the waiver or authorize it for three years before reassessing it.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.
Asked about his aides' recommendations, Johnson said, "My staff provided me a range of options, with a lot of pros and cons with each of these options."
The decision also infuriated Washington state officials and local environmentalists, who accused the Bush administration of cynically using the newly signed energy bill as an excuse to kill tougher restrictions on vehicle emissions that were also set to take effect in this state.
"I'm pissed," said Dennis McLerran, the normally soft-spoken head of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and a lead proponent of the California-style rules. "This is a political decision, not a fact-based decision."
He also predicted that states would sue the EPA to overturn the new ruling.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who sits on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, joined the criticism. "Time and again this administration has sat on the sidelines in addressing the serious effects of climate change," she said.
Gov. Christine Gregoire was noncommittal about a lawsuit Wednesday. Her spokesman, Aaron Toso, said nothing had been decided.
Washington's leading business lobby, the Association of Washington Business, had opposed the state law.
"It's always advantageous to have a federal program, especially when you're dealing with an international product such as automobiles," said Grant Nelson, governmental-affairs director for the association. "To try to mandate a different standard state by state simply doesn't make sense."
The decision comes from an administration that has long resisted regulation of such greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide, saying it favors a voluntary approach. Most recently, U.S. representatives at an international global-warming conference in Bali, Indonesia, reportedly fought an effort to lay out specific targets for future greenhouse-gas reductions.
Seattle Times reporter Warren Cornwall contributed to this report.
Material from The Associated Press and Los Angeles Times is included in this report.
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