Attorney General Lockyer Challenges Bush Administration Refusal to Regulate Vehicle Pollutants That Contribute to Global Warming

Thursday, October 23, 2003
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(Washington D.C.) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer, joined by 11 other Attorneys General, two large cities and major environmental groups, today filed a court challenge of the Bush Administration's decision to not regulate vehicle greenhouse gas emissions that pollute the air and contribute to global warming.

"The U.S. EPA's decision that it has no authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and that these emissions technically don't even count as air pollutants, is wrong, disturbing and dangerous to Californians' health, environment and economy," said Lockyer. "Unfortunately, this is what we have come to expect from a White House that dresses up as ‘Clear Skies' policies that will keep our air dirty."

"This issue is vital to the future of our state," said Governor Gray Davis. "It affects important resources like our rich agricultural lands, Sierra snow pack, the safety of our forests and our seaside communities. California has worked collaboratively with Washington whenever possible, but we must be willing to confront the federal government when it is mistaken, as it is in this case."

Lockyer filed two petitions with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. challenging EPA actions on behalf of the People of California, Governor Davis, and the state Air Resources Board (ARB). One petition seeks to reverse an EPA opinion that the agency does not have authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The second petition challenges the EPA's rejection of a request by environmental groups that the agency regulate such emissions from vehicles. Separate legal challenges were filed in the same court today by 11 other states, Washington D.C., three cities, two island governments and several major environmental groups.

The EPA's actions ignore reams of scientific studies that show carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, and that global warming represents a serious threat to the environment, and public health and safety. Additionally, numerous studies have demonstrated that vehicles are a key source of these emissions.

The scientific evidence clearly establishes that greenhouse gas emissions fall under the Clean Air Act's definition of "air pollutant," and that they pose a potential danger to public health. Yet, in a classic Catch-22 interpretation, the EPA argues that because the agency has no authority to regulate global warming under the Clean Air Act, the emissions that help cause global warming cannot be defined as air pollutants.

Placing greenhouse gases outside the definition of pollutants reversed previous EPA policy. "The Bush Administration's Alice-in-Wonderland view of the Clean Air Act cannot be allowed to stand," said Lockyer.

The EPA's ruling against regulating greenhouse gas emissions relies heavily – and mistakenly – on the U.S. Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Food and Drug Administration v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 120 S.Ct. 1291. In that case, the court held that the FDA had no authority to regulate tobacco. But the justices reasoned that, if the FDA did have regulatory purview, it would have to ban tobacco because it was unsafe. Such an action, the court held, would conflict with laws enacted by Congress that presume the availability of tobacco.

The case of greenhouse gas emissions, however, presents strikingly different issues. If it regulated such emissions, the EPA would not have to ban any product that Congress wanted to remain in the marketplace. Further, other federal laws do not conflict with regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

The EPA's reversal of prior policy and legal analysis reflects the Bush Administration's policy on global warming. "That policy is wrong-headed," said Lockyer. "At its core, despite consensus science to the contrary, is the view that more study needs to be done before taking corrective action. I don't have a problem with gathering more empirical evidence. But we've done enough study to know that we need to take concrete steps, now, to address this serious threat to our environment and public health."

Studies have shown global warming, by creating more smog, can increase and worsen respiratory ailments, including asthma. Additionally, experts say global warming could significantly reduce the Sierra Nevada snow pack. That, in turn, would cut the state's water supply and harm the agriculture industry, residential and recreational users, and wildlife. Global warming also could contribute to rising sea levels, which would endanger California's coastal landscape and wetlands.

The EPA's decisions on greenhouse gases were the latest in a series of actions by the Bush Administration that undermine the Clean Air Act and California's pioneering programs to provide cleaner air for its citizens. In lawsuits that will be dropped pursuant to a settlement, the Administration sided with the auto industry in its challenge of California's "Zero Emissions Vehicle" regulations. Last New Year's Eve and in August, the EPA issued new rules that gut requirements for plants to install modern pollution control equipment when they make major modifications to, or perform more than routine maintenance on, their facilities. California and other states are fighting those rules, as well.

The EPA's greenhouse gas decisions implicate California's ability to implement a landmark 2002 state law (AB 1493, Pavley) that requires the ARB to adopt rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. California officials, however, believe the state can adopt such regulations, regardless of the scope of the EPA's regulatory authority.

Other states that filed petitions today include: Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The cities of Baltimore and New York filed a separate challenge, as did a coalition of environmental groups that includes the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth and others.

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