States Clash With EPA Over Emissions Law

California is struggling to put into effect the nation’s first law requiring auto manufacturers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency is blocking their efforts.

While it is the EPA’s federal mandate to oversee environmental protection actions of every kind in the country, states are traditionally granted special waivers, which allow them to regulate such measures internally. Under the Clean Air Act, California in particular has received a lot of leeway to write its own air laws. The state has requested — and been granted — over 50 special waivers since 1968, in expression of California’s particularly green statewide sentiments. This time, however, the white house is expected to refuse California’s waiver request. And without the waiver, the state’s new greenhouse emission law would be, legally, nothing but an ineffectual attempt to pre-empt federal authority.

The new Californian law would require automakers to reduce greenhouse gases in cars and light trucks by 25 percent and in larger trucks and sport utility vehicles by 18 percent. Automakers would have to begin installing new technologies by 2009, but would have until 2016 to meet the new standards. But automobile manufacturers and oil lobbyists are insisting that the proposed law, and many other regulations similar to it, are not only unnecessary, but patently counterproductive.

The tastelessness of this kind of self interest in auto manufacturers and petroleum companies disgusts me. The financial arguments for not reducing emissions are barely tenable, especially when one takes into account the long-term costs of steadily rising oil prices and damages from global warming. And on a personal note, as a one-time resident of California, the idea of oil and auto policy makers presuming to determine what the quality of the air should be in the Golden State makes my stomach churn.