This post is by Vickie Patton, Deputy General Counsel at Environmental Defense, and a former attorney in the EPA's General Counsel's office.
Two years ago, California asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pave the way for landmark standards to limit global warming from motor vehicles. Seventeen other states plan to implement the Clean Car standards, pending the EPA decision. But today – after two years of stalling – EPA said no. This decision is virtually unprecedented; EPA has granted similar requests over 50 times in 40 years.
The Bush administration is putting the brakes on state action to address the global warming crisis. Doing nothing about global warming is bad enough – but going out of your way to block the state leaders who are taking action is just plain shocking.
For decades, EPA administrators have recognized the important role that California plays in innovating new air pollution limits for motor vehicles to fight pollution, and to deliver cleaner, healthier air. The 18 states that plan to implement the Clean Cars program account for nearly 50 percent of the total U.S. population and 45 percent of new automobile sales. Their implementation of the Clean Cars program would make a significant dent in global warming pollution, securing a 30 percent pollution cut by 2016 and eventually preventing 100 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to removing 20 million cars from the road.
EPA said that new fuel economy standards in the recently authorized energy bill would suffice to reduce global warming emissions from new automobiles. But the Clean Cars program secures deeper pollution reductions faster. The California clean car standards will start in Model Year 2009, fully phasing in by 2016. Science says we can't wait; global warming is already occurring. We must take action now. Every ton of global warming pollution prevented today is critical in stabilizing the climate.
The Supreme Court ruled in April 2007 that EPA has the authority and the obligation to regulate global warming pollution. When automakers sued, two federal courts – in Vermont and in California – affirmed states' rights to proceed with the Clean Cars program. Federal district court Judge Anthony Ishii ruled just last week that EPA's duty to protect human health and welfare from global warming pollution is more expansive than the nation's fuel efficiency laws:
Given the level of impairment of human health and welfare that current climate science indicates may occur if human-generated greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, it would be the very definition of folly if EPA were precluded from action."
Given the grim urgency of the global warming crisis, EPA's own decision to put the brakes on state action is more than folly – it is tragic.