Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

California vs. the EPA = Maddening!!

Posted in environment by allisonkilkenny on April 7, 2008

Last December, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), refused to allow California to require stricter emissions standards for car manufacturers in its state (and in any states wanting to follow their lead). I have since compiled what news I could find about this in order to make sense of it for myself. Here is the summary I’ve managed find so far.


At the start of 2007, the EPA didn’t address emissions reduction because it claimed no authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Also, the EPA claimed that it didn’t want to regulate CO2 emissions because doing so would interfere with the president’s international policy (never mind that the EPA is supposed to be non-partisan and simply act on behalf of environmental protection).

According to the Supreme Court decision in April of 2007, neither of these rationale were satisfactory. The United States Supreme Court ruled that the agency could regulate CO2 emissions because CO2 is a pollutant. Also, any argument against regulation had to be based on compliance with the Clean Air Act, NOT on potential clashes with the administration’s political agenda.

Within the year a stricter set of emissions standards were developed in California. These were significantly stronger than the expectations required by the federal government. According to BusinessGreen.com:

“The US Energy Independence and Security Act will require automakers to raise fuel economy to an average of 35mpg by 2020, while the California bill aims to increase fuel economy to 36.8mpg by the earlier date of 2016, beginning with the 2009 model year. According to figures from California, that means that by 2016 the Californian standard will have cut emissions by 17.2 million tonnes, more than double the 7.7 million tonnes expected to be curbed by the new US-wide standard.”

In December of 2007, the EPA rejected California’s proposed state regulations. It did so on the basis that:

1) the standards set by the US Energy Independence and Security Act are sufficient,
2) allowing states to set their own standards would be far too difficult for car manufacturers to comply with, and
3) states can only be granted exceptions if they have special or unique problems in need of immediate attention.

I’d like to clarify the third point. To the EPA, California has an unusually terrible problem with smog, so California could pass stricter rules to regulate smog. However, global warming is a worldwide problem, it isn’t special to California (or any other state), so they can’t pass stricter state standards for CO2 emissions if they’re designed to fight global warming. Never mind that California is poised to feel direct effects from global warming long before shoreless states. Never mind that smog is, in part, composed of the CO2 causing problems both in California and around the world. Never mind that an agency supposedly devoted to non-partisan environmental protection is playing word games in order to blatantly pander to party politics. Never mind the gross idiocy of slowing any state’s efforts to solve environmental problems, whether local or worldwide in nature.

Here’s what I really don’t get: Isn’t the idea of the federal government setting an environmental standard supposed to be the minimum that states are expected to follow? In what universe does it make sense to forbid any state from holding themselves to a higher environmental standard than other states? Considering that the physical and financial stake of American citizens are at risk, shouldn’t this be a matter of states’ rights? The federal government should require states to improve business standards, not force them to remain lower.

In response, eighteen states, two cities, the District of Columbia, and numerous environmental agencies are suing the EPA for the right to adopt California’s stricter emissions standards.. (Understand, this means that the automobile industry would have two standards to match, not eighteen. And the more states that join California, the more poweful these standards will be in influencing the auto industry. So it’s much less “confusing” than the EPA has implied.) According to Reuters:

“In addition to Massachusetts, the other states and cities joining the suit are: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington state and Washington D.C., New York City and Baltimore.”

Despite the suit, the EPA expects to stall the issue until the end of Bush’s presidency. All Headline News recently reported:

“Last week, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson announced a plan to seek public comment on how to limit these emissions. The process is expected to take years, and wouldn’t be finalized until well after President George W. Bush’s administration is out of office.

The announcement also angered environmental advocates who noted in a conference call Wednesday that more than 50,000 public comments had been received at the beginning of this process, nearly nine years ago.”

Finally, I would point out that the technology for electric cars has been around for decades, but that automobile companies won’t invest research or production unless compelled to do so by the government. That’s why fully electric cars were found on California roads; and that’s why there are no longer fully electric cars on California roads. (Watch Who Killed the Electric Car? if you’re not familiar with that terribly wasted opportunity.) Aspiring engineers in their garages have converted their own vehicles into plug-in hybrids (this guy’s plug-in hybrid runs 100+ miles to the gallon: YouTube: Plug-In Hybrid feature on CalCars.org), so why can’t major companies do what individuals can? Some argue that it’s more difficult for auto companies to make similar vehicles en mass because it requires major changes in their manufacturing process; I argue that the power of the process, the streamlining of assembly-line construction, is precisely the advantage making major car manufacturers ideal for leading in an electric car revolution. That is, if either consumers or the government can motivate them to do it.


Now, shwew!, after getting through all that information, please let me know if I have in any way misunderstood what is happening or have neglected something important. I’ve tried to be as thorough as possible but obviously this is a huge issue. Coverage of this story, including articles cited above, are here arranged chronologically:

2007-04-02, PBS — Online News Hour:
Supreme Court Says EPA Can Regulate Greenhouse Gases

2007-12-19, The New York Times:
E.P.A. Denies California Emission’s Waiver

2007-12-20, SFGate:
EPA blocks California bid to limit greenhouse gases from cars

2008-01-02, Wired Science:
California Sues EPA; Says State Law Greener, Cleaner Than Feds

2008-01-03, The New York Times:
California Sues E.P.A. Over Denial of Waiver

2008-03-11, businessGreen.com:
Cheat Sheet: California versus the EPA (This is the most straighforward and helpful summary I’ve found covering the situation up to that date.)

2008-03-12, ConsumerReports.com:
California fights EPA for cleaner, gas-saving cars

2008-03-13, detnews.com:
White House blocked EPA, legislator says

2008-03-21, Living On Earth:
Court’s Climate Ruling Puts Heat on EPA

2008-04-03, All Headline News:
EPA Inaction On Greenhouse Gas Draws Suit From States

2008-04-03, eFlux Media:
Coalition of States, Groups Sues EPA Over Emissions

2008-04-03, Reuters:
18 states sue EPA over greenhouse gas pollution

Other relevant information:

Clean Air Act: Full Text
Clean Air Act: Section 209 – State Standards [Most relevant is (b) (1).]
Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007: Full Text
Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007: Summary


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