CA Headed For National Greenhouse Gas Reduction Win

By Published On: January 26, 2009

President Barack Obama ordered the federal government January 26 to reconsider California’s pursuit of its rights to curb greenhouse gases. California has struggled for years to get a federal waiver under the national Clean Air Act to allow it to implement its vehicle tailpipe emissions reduction law. Under the previous federal administration, the issue turned into a battle over turf and ideology. California’s plan to make its own reductions in greenhouse gases by clamping down on vehicle emissions continued to be rejected until the new administration was sworn in last week. “This is a great victory for California and for clean air around the nation,” said Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger shortly after Obama signed the memo directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new administrator to reassess the Clean Air Act waiver for the Golden State. The signing of the presidential order on Monday was by no means welcomed by all. “A more potent de-stimulus package would be difficult to imagine,” complained Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow Mario Lewis. California also intends to curb greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources—mainly power plants--in order to implement its climate protection law AB 32. That statute requires the state to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020. However, the state's proposed vehicle tailpipe emissions mandate is expected to help meet the carbon curbs under AB 32 but it was blocked by a federal denial of its waiver request. The new president has been in office six days and California has battled the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the matter for three years. “What a difference a week makes,” said State Senator Fran Pavley (D-Santa Monica), who authored the tailpipe emissions bill, AB 1493, when serving in the Assembly in 2002. AB 1493 is estimated to cut new vehicle carbon emissions by about 20 percent in 2012, and an additional 10 percent by 2016. The tighter tailpipe emission rules are estimated to be the equivalent of taking 6.5 million cars off the road. Fewer emissions from the transportation sector is expected to ease the reduction burden on the electricity sector. The governor said that implementing AB 1493 was “not about punishing automakers” but about giving “them a little push to be innovative and develop new techniques to make better cars that are more competitive.” Schwarzenegger added that the statute also involved the right to breathe clean air, save drivers money and reduce the country’s dependence on foreign oil. Meanwhile, the state chief and lawmakers struggle to reach agreement on closing the $42 billion state budget hole. Many proposals are on the table, including ones by Republicans to roll back 1493’s standards and AB 32’s carbon reduction mandate. The governor refused to take a position on the matter during the Monday press conference, saying, “I don’t want to get into any details of our budget discussions because it could blow up everything.” He insisted, however, that protecting the environment was a top priority. U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) insisted the federal wavier would be granted soon. “We know that the scientists and professionals at EPA have made it clear that science and the law demand that the waiver be granted,” stated Boxer, who is chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Former EPA official Jason Burnett revealed that the White House interfered with the waiver decision and pressured the then head of EPA Stephen Johnson to reject his staff’s recommendation to approve the petition (Circuit, July 11, 2008). California sued the EPA in November 2007 for stalling on a waiver ruling. A second suit was filed early this year challenging the waiver denial. Approval of the waiver would allow California, thirteen other states, and Washington DC to launch tailpipe emission standards that are more stringent than federal ones. Other states are also expected to enact similar legislation, including Illinois and Florida. “There standards are sweeping the country,” stated Bernadette del Chairo, clean energy advocate for Environment California. The presidential executive order also called on the U.S. Transportation Department to set higher fuel economy standards.

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