SACRAMENTO – California sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday for denying its first-in-the-nation greenhouse gas limits on cars, trucks and SUVs, challenging the Bush administration's conclusion that states have no business setting emission standards.
Other states are expected to join the lawsuit, which was anticipated after the EPA denied California's request Dec. 19. The lawsuit was filed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson denied California a waiver that it needs under the federal Clean Air Act to move forward with regulating greenhouse gas emissions from new cars and trucks. At least 16 other states had been expected to follow California's lead and adopt the state's tougher emission limits.
"There's absolutely no justification for the administrator's action," Attorney General Jerry Brown told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. "It's illegal. It's unconscionable and a gross dereliction of duty."
In announcing his decision last month, Johnson said the federal government was moving forward with a national solution and dismissed California's arguments that it faced unique threats from climate change.
Johnson said energy legislation signed by President Bush will raise fuel economy standards nationwide to an average of 35 mpg by 2020. He said that was a far more effective approach to reducing greenhouse gases than a patchwork of state regulations.
In an emailed statement, EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said the federal Energy Independence and Security Act "is a more beneficial national approach to a national problem, which establishes an aggressive standard for all 50 states — as opposed to a lower standard in California and a patchwork of other states."
California officials contend their 2004 law is tougher than the new national standard. It would have required the auto industry to cut emissions by one-third in new vehicles by 2016 or reach an average of 36.8 mpg, setting a deadline four years earlier than the new federal law.
Over the next eight years, California's standards would reduce carbon dioxide output from vehicles by 17.2 million metric tons, more than double the 7.7 million metric tons that will be achieved with the federal fuel-efficiency standards, according to an analysis released Wednesday by California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols.
Twelve other states — Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington — have adopted the California emissions standards.
The governors of Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Utah have said they also plan to adopt them. The rules also are under consideration in Iowa.
"(EPA officials) are ignoring the will of millions of people who want their government to take action in the fight against global warming," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "That's why, at the very first legal opportunity, we're suing to reverse the U.S. EPA's wrong decision."
Fifteen states plan to intervene on California's behalf, including 13 of those that have either adopted or are in the process of adopting the rules. Delaware and Illinois, which have not passed the standards, also are part of the lawsuit.
"Today, there is simply no environmental issue more compelling — or extraordinary — than the increasing threat of climate change," New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "Greenhouse gas emission standards for cars are a logical and necessary step to effectively combat global warming."
The EPA's decision was a victory for automakers, who had argued that they would have been forced to reduce their selection of vehicles and raise prices in the states that adopted California's standards.
It was the first time the EPA had fully denied California a waiver under the Clean Air Act since Congress gave the state the right to obtain such waivers in 1967.
Brown said the EPA has attempted to kill a legal, viable policy tailored to help California deal with projected consequences of global climate change. Rising seas could erode the state's coastline and top its levees, while warming temperatures are expected to reduce the Sierra snowpack, leading to a potential water crisis.
"To curb the innovative efforts of California and other states makes no sense," Brown said.
During a news conference announcing the lawsuit, Brown said the EPA's decision appears to have been made after "White House pressure, automobile influence or some other lobbying pressure."
He filed the suit in the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit, which is viewed as more friendly to the state's position than other federal courts. Brown said he expects the Bush administration will seek to have the case transferred to the more conservative federal appeals court based in Washington D.C.
"We understand this is a long fight that may go to the Supreme Court," Brown said. "We feel this is going to be a struggle."
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler LLC, Toyota Motor Corp. and six other automakers, favors the federal plan, spokesman Charles Territo said.
It will increase efficiency by 40 percent and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new vehicles 30 percent, while giving automakers four years longer than the state law to adapt.
"We agree with EPA that a national policy is important to avoid a patchwork quilt of state regulations," Territo said.
The EPA's denial angered members of Congress, including California Democrats who sit on key committees. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Henry Waxman, who chair the committees that oversee the EPA, said the agency ignored the legal requirements in the Clean Air Act.
Last week, the EPA said it would turn over all documents about its denial of the California waiver request to congressional committees that have promised hearings into the decision. That includes the agency's communications with the White House.
The auto regulations are a major part of California's global warming law, which aims to reduce greenhouse gases statewide by 25 percent — to 1990 levels — by 2020. Auto emissions account for about 17 percent of the state's proposed reductions.
Nichols said the California air board is reviewing other measures it could impose on automobile manufacturers if the lawsuit fails or delays the state's regulations from taking effect.