Lawsuits Against EPA for Decision on Auto Emissions

Vickie PattonThis post is by Vickie Patton, Deputy General Counsel at Environmental Defense, and a former attorney in the EPA’s General Counsel’s office.

Two lawsuits were filed today against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which sits in San Francisco. The first lawsuit was filed by California, and the second by several environmental organizations – Environmental Defense, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Conservation Law Foundation, and the International Center for Technology Assessment.

The lawsuits challenge EPA’s denial of California’s request for a preemption waiver under the Clean Air Act to implement the state’s landmark standards for greenhouse gas emissions – requests that have been granted by EPA over 50 times in the past 40 years [PDF].

The EPA’s decision relies on a flawed argument that the federal courts already have rejected and are likely to reject again.

In denying California’s request, EPA paradoxically argued that California’s innovative clean car program must be disallowed because global warming is a pervasive problem that does not affect California alone. But EPA’s decision would deny remedies to the most widespread, profound harm to the climate – vehicle emissions.

Besides, California has its own compelling stake in stabilizing the climate and in speeding the transition to cleaner cars:

  • California is home to one in seven Americans.
  • California has more than 32 million registered vehicles, far more than any state.
  • Climate change is a clear and present danger.
  • California’s coasts, its people, and its economy are vulnerable to sea level rise.
  • Climate change threatens its precarious water resources.
  • California is distinctly prone to wildfires.
  • California is already afflicted by the death and disease associated with the worst air quality in the nation, and higher temperatures will increase the intensity and frequency of unhealthy smog days.

In other words, California’s innovation is born of necessity. EPA had no basis for denying California’s request to carry out a bold new Clean Car program that limits greenhouse gases.

The lawsuits were filed today because time is of the essence. California’s Clean Car standards, which will cut fleet-wide emissions for passenger cars and trucks by 30 percent, are scheduled to take effect in model year 2009. Many greenhouse gases persist in the atmosphere for decades, so every ton of global warming pollution eliminated now is critical in stabilizing the climate.

California’s innovation in addressing global warming is cascading across the land. Seventeen other states have adopted or committed to adopt California’s standards. Collectively, these states account for nearly one-half of the U.S. population and about one-half of all new motor vehicle sales nationwide.

There is strong state support for California’s legal action. We anticipate that 15 other states will immediately file motions to intervene in support of California’s case.

EPA should be leading the nation to address the global warming crisis. Instead, EPA is obstructing state leadership. Today’s legal action should not be necessary.

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