Image courtesy of Vibragiel
Going against the better judgment of his agency's legal and technical staffs, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson shot down California's proposed auto emissions waiver, arguing that the recently enacted energy bill would do more to combat global warming than "a confusing patchwork of state rules." That, of course, is blatantly wrong: yes, it does contain renewable energy requirements but, as California state officials have pointed out, the waiver would require a mileage average of 36 mpg by 2016 - as opposed to the energy bill's 35 mpg by 2020.
What is most infuriating about Johnson's decision is that 16 other states, representing over half of the U.S. population, had either already adopted or pledged to adopt California's tailpipe emissions rules - flying in the face of his "patchwork of state rules" argument. This denial comes in the wake of decisions recently made by federal judges in Vermont and California to block carmakers' attempts to strike down state tailpipe regulations; no doubt the lobbying efforts of several major companies, including Ford and Chrysler, helped "influence" Johnson's decision.In denying the waiver, Johnson chose to completely disregard the opinions of his staff who had recommended that he either approve it or authorize it for a trial period before reassessing it. For some context, California had heretofore never been denied a wave in the Clean Air Act's 37-year history; the landmark piece of legislation specifically authorizes states to set their own air pollution regulations as long as they get exemptions from the federal government.
So why the change now? According to Johnson, this waiver is "different" because climate change is a "global problem that requires a clear national solution," not one appropriate for individual states to take on. Fortunately, environmentalists and California legislators are confident that they will be able to get the decision repealed; notch yet another environmental success to the Bush record.
For a great analysis of Johnson's decision, read Grist's David Roberts' take here.