The Bush administration’s decision to deny California permission to regulate and reduce global warming emissions from cars and trucks is an indefensible act of executive arrogance that can only be explained as the product of ideological blindness and as a political payoff to the automobile industry.
The decision, announced Wednesday by Stephen Johnson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, overrode the advice of his legal and technical staffs, misconstrued the law and defied both Congress and the federal courts. It also stuck a thumb in the eyes of 17 other state governors who have grown impatient with the federal government’s failure to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and wanted to move aggressively on their own.
The Clean Air Act of 1970 gave California authority to set its own clean air standards if it first received a federal waiver. The law also said that other states could then adopt California’s standards. In 2004, California asked permission to move ahead with a law requiring automakers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new cars and light trucks by 30 percent by 2016. That would require improvements in fuel economy far beyond those called for in the energy bill signed this week.
Over the years, California has made 50 waiver requests to regulate smog-forming pollutants and other gases and has never been denied. This was the first request involving emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which the Bush administration has steadfastly refused to regulate.
For three years, the E.P.A. also hid behind the argument that it had no authority over carbon dioxide emissions because carbon dioxide was not specifically identified as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court demolished that argument last April. Subsequent court decisions have upheld the states’ authority to set their own standards while refuting the auto industry’s assertions that meeting the California standards would be technologically and economically impossible.
Undeterred, industry tried to insert language in the energy bill that would have gutted E.P.A.’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide and, thus, its authority to grant California its waiver. Congress refused. The automakers also sought relief from the White House and Vice President Cheney. The result of all these machinations was Mr. Johnson’s decision on Wednesday and the ludicrous reasoning that accompanied it.
One of Mr. Johnson’s arguments was that a “national solution” to carbon dioxide emissions was preferable to a “confusing patchwork of state rules.” A national solution is precisely what the administration has refused to offer. And the California rule — once in force there and in 17 other states — would in fact constitute a uniform standard covering nearly half the car market. That is why the automakers lobbied so fiercely against it.
It has been hard enough to trust Mr. Bush’s recent assertions that he has finally gotten religion on climate change. It all seems like posturing now.