NEW YORK - California, joined by 15 other states, including Massachusetts, sued the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday over its refusal to allow the state to set its own, tougher vehicle-emissions standards to control greenhouse gases and combat global warming.
The suit was filed in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco two weeks after the EPA's decision to turn down California's request for a waiver that would have allowed it to begin implementing a landmark 2004 law limiting carbon dioxide output from cars, trucks, and SUVs. That law would require new vehicles to cut tailpipe emissions by a third by 2016, which California officials said would result in a fuel efficiency standard of 36.8 miles per gallon.
Such waivers have been routinely granted to California under the 1970 Clean Air Act, which allows the Golden State to set its own air pollution standards with federal approval.
As a result, California has often been a national leader in developing air quality protections.
In denying the waiver this time, EPA director Stephen Johnson said a single federal policy would be a more efficient way to combat global warming than a confusing patchwork of state laws. In December, President Bush signed an energy bill that would raise vehicle fuel efficiency standards nationwide to 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020, four years later than the California mandate, and Johnson called that a better way to address vehicles' contributions to the greenhouse gas buildup.
In filing the lawsuit, California Attorney General Edmund "Jerry" Brown Jr. said, "There's absolutely no justification for the administrator's action," the Associated Press reported. "It's illegal. It's unconscionable and a gross dereliction of duty."
"To curb the innovative efforts of California and other states makes no sense," Brown said in the interview.
In New York, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced that his state would lead a coalition of 15 states backing California's legal right to set its own environmental standards in the face of what he called inaction at the federal level.
"The EPA's attempt to stop New York and other states from taking on global warming pollution from automobiles is shameful," Cuomo said in a statement.
"By denying New York the right to set global warming emission standards for cars, the Bush administration is intentionally obstructing our efforts to combat climate change."
The EPA's deputy press secretary, Jonathan Shradar, said in a statement, "As the administrator indicated when announcing his intention to deny the California waiver request, under the recently signed energy bill we now have a more beneficial national approach to a national problem which establishes an aggressive standard for all 50 states, as opposed to a lower standard in California and a patchwork of other states." He referred other questions to the Justice Department.
The other states and agencies joining the suit are Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
Also yesterday, Senator Diane Feinstein, a Democrat from California, sent a letter to the EPA inspector general's office asking for a formal investigation into how the decision was made to deny California the waiver.