The California lawsuit was immediately joined by the state of Pennsylvania and several environmental groups. including the Conservation Law Foundation, Environmental Defense, International Center for Technology Assessment, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club, which have long been proponents of tougher emissions and fuel-economy standards.
On December 19, the EPA denied California a waiver it needs under the federal Clean Air Act to impose restrictions on greenhouse gases. It was the first time in 40 years that the EPA denied California such a waiver.
Stephen L. Johnson, the EPA’s administrator, said new federal regulations would be more effective than a patchwork of state laws. California, however, is expected to argue the approval of such a waiver has been routine and in the eyes of the law itself the EPA and the State of California have equal weight in fighting environmental hazards.
Johnson said the federal government had approved a new set of fuel-economy regulations that represented a national solution to a complex problem. The new energy legislation, recently signed by President Bush, will raise fuel economy standards nationwide to an average of 35 mpg by 2020, he said.
California officials contend their 2004 law is tougher than the new national standard. It would have required the auto industry to cut emissions by one-third in new vehicles by 2016 or reach an average of 36.8 mpg, setting a deadline four years earlier than the new federal law.
California’s experts estimate the standards would reduce carbon dioxide output from vehicles by 17.2 million metric tons, more than double the 7.7 million metric tons that will be achieved with the federal fuel-efficiency standards. The figures come from an analysis released Wednesday by California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols.
Carmakers have opposed the California legislation for years but have been unsuccessful in either blocking it or having it set aside, which is why they now favor the solution embedded in the federal energy bill, which includes a 40-percent increase in fuel economy.
The legislation would force manufacturers to reduce the size of vehicles across the board, limiting consumer choices, company executives have said.
Twelve other states — Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington — have adopted the California emissions standards. In addition, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, and Utah have said they plan to adopt them.
Pennsylvania governor Edward G. Rendell said his state was joining the multi-state lawsuit against the EPA.
"The EPA wrongfully and illegally blocked our efforts to do something about climate change — all they should have done was step aside and let the states take the lead," Rendell said. "Pennsylvania and other states should be able to ensure cleaner air and water to protect the health of our residents."
“To curb the innovative efforts of California and other states makes no sense,” California Attorney General Jerry Brown said. “We understand this is a long fight that may go to the Supreme Court.”
Nichols also said the California air board is reviewing other measures it could impose on automobile manufacturers if the lawsuit fails or delays the state’s regulations from taking effect.
"While global warming marches onward, EPA continues to drag its feet," said Jim Tripp, general counsel of Environmental Defense. "The agency's decision defies the law, the science and the will of states representing nearly half of the U.S. population."
"The Administrator's denial of California's request relies on a flawed argument that the federal courts already have rejected," Tripp added. "We've won before in the federal courts, so we expect to win again this time too."