Ever since California passed its stringent tailpipe emissions standards in 2002, automakers have sought to nullify them, and they've hit nothing but roadblocks. In April, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Now, a federal judge in Vermont has decided in favor of that state's emissions standards, which are modeled on California's. But none of this will mean a thing unless the EPA grants California a waiver - something the agency seems in no particular rush to do.
Because California's air pollution laws predate those of the federal government, the Clean Air Act permits the state to devise its own laws - and allows other states to adopt its regulations, as long as they are not arbitrary and are at least as stringent as national regulations. The California rules require a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from the tailpipes of cars and light trucks by 2016, starting with the 2009 model year. Vermont, as well as 10 other states, including Maryland, have approved those standards.
U.S. District Judge William Sessions III ruled that Vermont's tailpipe emissions law could not be blocked. He rejected the argument that California (and, therefore, Vermont) was supplanting federal authority by detailing that state's history as a "proving ground for innovation in emissions control." And Judge Sessions didn't buy automakers' argument that they couldn't meet the new standards, noting that every time policy-makers pushed the industry to develop new technologies, such as the catalytic converter in the 1970s, "the industry responded with technological advancements designed to meet the challenges." A similar lawsuit is pending in California.
For Vermont's law to go into effect, all that's needed is that EPA waiver for California. This shouldn't be a big deal. The agency has granted the state more than 40 waivers over the past 30 years. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R, requested one for his state's tailpipe standards in December 2005. And he's heard nothing ever since. EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood said that a final determination on the request would be made by the end of the year.
Two years to make a decision? No wonder California Attorney General Jerry Brown has threatened to go to court if no decision is made by the end of October. And he'd be right to take that action. What California and Vermont are trying to do is bold and necessary. The EPA needs to grant the waiver and step out of the way. Clint Talbot for the editorial board.
© 2007 The Daily Camera