Brown Sues EPA for Illegally Blocking California's Plan to Curb Tailpipe Emissions

Wednesday, January 2, 2008
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WASHINGTON D.C. — Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr., on behalf of the State of California, today sued the United States Environmental Protection Agency for “wrongfully and illegally” blocking the state's landmark tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions standards.

Brown filed the lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to challenge the EPA’s denial of California's request to implement its emissions law—which requires a 30 percent reduction in motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by 2016. California's new standards require federal approval in the form of a waiver from the EPA. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson denied California's request on December 19, 2007 in a letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“The denial letter was shocking in its incoherence and utter failure to provide legal justification for the administrator's unprecedented action,” California Attorney General Brown said. “The EPA has done nothing at the national level to curb greenhouse gases and now it has wrongfully and illegally blocked California's landmark tailpipe emissions standards, despite the fact that sixteen states have moved to adopt them.”

Under the Clean Air Act, passed by Congress in 1963, California is expressly allowed to impose environmental regulations that are stricter than federal rules in recognition of the state’s “compelling and extraordinary conditions” which include unique topography, climate, and high number and concentration of vehicles.

The administrator stated in his decision that California did not need its tailpipe emissions standards to meet “compelling and extraordinary conditions,” a finding which reversed decades of agency practice and ignored the dangerous consequences of global warming to the State of California.

Global warming threatens California's Sierra mountain snow pack, which provides the state with one-third of its drinking water. California also has approximately 1,000 miles of coastline and levees that are threatened by rising sea levels.

Section 307 of the Clean Air Act gives California the authority to challenge adverse decisions by filing a petition for review two weeks after a rejection is issued. According to sources from within the EPA--as quoted in several national media accounts--Administrator Johnson rejected the unanimous recommendation of his agency’s legal and technical staff to grant the waiver.

In the 40-year history of the Act, EPA has granted approximately 50 waivers to California for innovations like catalytic converters, exhaust emission standards, and leaded gasoline regulations. Until last month, a waiver request had never been denied. The National Academy of Sciences has reviewed the waiver system and strongly supports maintaining California's role as “a proving ground for new-emission control technologies that benefit California and the rest of the nation.”

Cars generate 20% of all human-made carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and at least 30% of such emissions in California.

Fifteen other states or state agencies—Massachusetts, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington—are joining today's lawsuit as interveners.

“The EPA’s attempt to stop New York and other states from taking on global warming pollution from automobiles is shameful,” said New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. “As recognized by the scientific community and most world leaders, global warming will have devastating impacts on our environment, health, and economy if it continues to go unchecked.”

In December, the U.S. District Court in Fresno rejected the auto industry's challenge to California’s emissions law, concluding that both California and the EPA are equally empowered to limit greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. In September, a federal court judge in Vermont also rejected a similar effort, by the same automobile industry group, to block the state from implementing California’s tailpipe emissions law.

EPA’s rejection letter is attached along with the state’s lawsuit challenging the denial.

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PDF icon EPA's Rejection Letter2.03 MB
PDF icon EPA Petition119.1 KB