Rare EPA public hearing in California considers emissions waiver request

| 5/30/2007

California Attorney General Jerry Brown told a panel of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials Wednesday that his state “was and is a pioneer” in environmental protection efforts.

The EPA public hearing Wednesday was conducted as the federal agency considers whether to grant California a waiver for the Federal Clean Air Act. The waiver would allow that state to implement tougher emissions rules.

California is pursuing the EPA’s approval to enact new greenhouse gas emission regulations for passenger cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty passenger vehicles beginning for 2009 models. Though the specific emissions rules don’t include big rigs, the California Air Resources Board is in the process of implementing tougher emissions rules for tractors.

California first adopted the new emissions standards in 2005. The standards include regulating carbon as a pollutant for the first time. Commercial trucks would be exempt.

Massachusetts and Vermont are among 11 other states that have also adopted the rules, which require more stringent emissions standards than those set by the EPA.

Chris Grundler, of the EPA’s national vehicle and fuel emissions laboratory opened Wednesday’s meeting by remarking that the hearing was the first time his agency had held a public hearing in California in years.

“We recognize the important of this request to other states,” Grundler said. “This is certainly a very serious undertaking.”

Susan Kennedy, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, said the EPA hadn’t moved on California’s request for a waiver since it was requested in early 2006.

“With all due respect, the federal government has failed to lead,” Kennedy told the EPA panel. “It has refused to follow, and it’s time to get out of the way.

The EPA and auto industry leaders have argued that emissions will be decreased naturally by tougher requirements for fuel economy standards.

In early April, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the EPA’s argument that the federal government’s fuel economy standards trumps state law simply because it is federal, and said it must regulate greenhouse gases unless it can find scientific reasoning not to do so.

On Wednesday, Kennedy echoed those sentiments.

“The agency must take action without further delay,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer