Federal government takes aim at California's greenhouse gas rules
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Federal officials said Wednesday that new national mileage standards would pre-empt state rules on greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, a move that takes aim at California's first-in-the-nation limits on such pollution.
State air regulators voted unanimously in September 2004 to approve rules that would cut exhaust from California's cars and light trucks by 25 percent and from larger trucks and sport utility vehicles by 18 percent.
The Bush administration said Wednesday that such regulations were "expressly pre-empted" by the new federal standards.
State Attorney General Bill Lockyer vowed to defend the state rules, setting the stage for a legal battle over California's ambitious clean air plan.
He said the federal government's claim that its regulations trump the state law was "nothing more than another gift to the auto industry from the Bush administration."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration laid out its position during the introduction of new mileage regulations requiring modest improvements in fuel efficiency for vans, pickup trucks and SUVs.
Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the administration was adhering to legislation passed by Congress that "explicitly requires the federal fuel economy program to pre-empt all state regulations and laws relating to fuel economy."
Automakers have sued over the 2004 regulations approved by the California Air Resources Board, arguing that the rules went beyond the board's authority, could not be met with current technology, and unfairly targeted California, which produces less than 1 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.
The auto industry also argued that the new standards would increase vehicles costs for consumers.
Because California began setting vehicle emissions standards before the federal government, the state is allowed under the Clean Air Act of 1970 to set its own standards, which other states have the option of adopting.
California must apply for a waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its rules to take effect. The state is still awaiting a decision from the agency on its 2004 emissions rules, which are slated to take effect in 2009.
Frank O'Donnell, president of the environmental group Clean Air Watch, said the language of Wednesday's announcement strongly suggested the U.S. EPA would not approve the state's request to set its own regulations.
"This looks to me like the Bush administration is indicating California's waiver request will be in for a very rough ride," he said.
California can sue if the request is denied.
Jerry Martin, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board, declined to comment on whether that might happen. But he did say the board wasn't surprised by the federal announcement.
"It's basically in line with the administration's policies on this issue," he said. "It's really the same thing that the automakers have been saying all along."