Report shows White House hand in EPA’s denial of CA emissions waiver

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 5/20/2008

California’s quest to regulate greenhouse gas emissions was quashed in part after the EPA’s top official consulted with the White House, according to a congressional investigation released Monday, May 20.

The waiver would allow California and at least 15 other states that adopted California’s law to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks.

The greenhouse gas rule wouldn’t affect heavy duty trucks. California is, however, awaiting an Environmental Protection Agency waiver ruling for a proposed reefer rule for big trucks. State officials are also working on several additional truck emission rules that could be adopted by other states.

The case of the EPA’s denial of the greenhouse gas rule illustrates the ongoing tug-of-war between states and federal emission standards, as California seeks to set national clean air standards above and beyond the EPA’s.

The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform issued a memo Monday confirming that EPA staffers unanimously supported granting California a waiver. The report also states that EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson at least initially supported granting the waiver and that Johnson changed his mind after meeting with White House officials.

California has special permission under the U.S. Clean Air Act to enact its own air quality standards, although the EPA must grant waivers in some circumstances.

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, issued several rounds of subpoenas requiring the EPA to submit documents and memos detailing its decision-making process for the California waiver.

The battle, apparently, still continues.

“EPA continues to withhold some documents from the Committee that are responsive to this subpoena,” read Monday’s committee memo.

On Monday, California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols repeated CARB’s call for a granting of the waiver.

In April 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state’s right to regulate greenhouse gases, even if the federal EPA chose not to.

“While EPA fiddles and we burn, consumers are being denied the right to purchase cars that are cleaner and save money at the pump,” Nichols said. “The auto companies can comply beginning with 2009 model year cars – cars that are available, or will soon be available, in dealers’ showrooms.”

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, agreed.

“Clearly the Bush administration at the highest levels killed the California waiver,” Boxer said. “The people of California and the other states have a right to know how this indefensible decision happened, and we demand that EPA and the Bush White House turn over the documents we have asked for immediately.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

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