- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California can move forward with its efforts to set the nation’s first standards to cut tailpipe emissions from cars, light trucks and sport utility vehicles, the Environmental Protection Agency said.

The state has been seeking an exemption from the federal Clean Air Act since 2005 to set emissions standards in hopes of reducing greenhouse gases.

The EPA had refused, arguing that the authority to set fuel-economy standards belonged only to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Supreme Court, however, eliminated that argument Monday, ruling that the EPA has the authority to establish vehicle-emissions standards.

That 5-4 ruling also could affect an auto-industry lawsuit seeking to block the state’s proposed regulations.

The California regulations were designed in 2002 to reduce the emissions from cars and light trucks by 25 percent and from SUVs by 18 percent starting in 2009.

“We’ve reviewed the issues within the waiver request,” EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood said Tuesday. “We’re moving forward to the next steps of the process.”

The agency will schedule a public comment period and public hearing.

California has special authority under the federal Clean Air Act to set its own vehicle-emissions standards because it began regulating air pollution before the federal government did in the 1970s. Ten other states have adopted California’s standards, and Maryland is considering doing so, but they have to wait to implement them until the EPA grants California a waiver.

“It’s clear EPA has to consider California’s waiver request now,” said Sean Hecht, executive director of the environmental law center at the University of California at Los Angeles. “That doesn’t mean it’s a foregone conclusion.”

Monday’s court ruling prompted movement Tuesday in a separate lawsuit brought by the auto industry to prevent California from moving forward with its regulations if it receives the waiver.

The California Air Resources Board, with several environmental groups, officially notified U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii of the Supreme Court’s decision. In January, he placed the lawsuit on hold pending a decision by the court.

It’s not clear what the next step will be in the case, which is being heard in federal court in Fresno, Calif. But both sides said the Supreme Court’s decision favors their argument.

“The case will affect all of the pending litigation that California has with both the auto companies and Midwestern energy companies,” California Attorney General Jerry Brown said Monday.

The Natural Resources Defense Council intends to ask the judge to dismiss the case in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, spokesman Craig Noble said.

Raymond Ludwiszewski, an attorney representing the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, interpreted the ruling by the Supreme Court as a directive that greenhouse-gas regulations should be crafted at the federal level, not by the states.

California’s attempt to cut tailpipe emissions is a key component of the state’s broader effort to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020. The auto regulations could help the state reach about 17 percent of its target, Air Resources Board spokeswoman Gennet Paauwe said.

California is the world’s 12th-largest producer of greenhouse gases.

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