E.P.A. Says 17 States Can’t Set Emission Rules


New York Times – December 20, 2007

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just decided that 17 states could not have a waiver that allowed them to mandate their own standards for the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. This comes after the EPA had previously granted approximately 50 waivers to California over many years allowing California regulators special privileges as they combat their unique pollution issues.

My readers in countries outside of the US may not completely understand this division of authority (and may not care).  I don’t want to get into a full civics lesson in this article but the Constitution that regulates our government is vague and somewhat contradictory on the division of some types of authority in our federated republic. If you would like to read about state and federal division of power you can check out the wikipedia discussion here. To put it in quick explanation, the US Constitution grants all authority to the states except where specifically allocated to the federal government. The problem is that the idea of control of pollution was not considered by the founders and the control of this (and other issues) is subject to some level of interpretation.

Logistically, this decision does make some amount of sense, even if the goals of the individual states are commendable. Subjecting the automotive industry to a confusing smorgasbord of regulation would subject them to an incredibly costly bureaucracy. Also, having different standards among states would allow residents from one state to travel to a less penalizing neighboring state to save money on the less stringent pollution controls. By having one standard throughout the entire nation, these issues can be avoided and the goals of appropriate levels of pollution control can be attained.

Also, if the US is ever to join the world community in capping certain emissions, the EPA would have to be charged with establishing that minimum throughout the land. We would not be able to balance different regulations and still achieve a national goal.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday denied California and 16 other states the right to set their own standards for carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles.

The decision immediately provoked a heated debate over its scientific basis and whether political pressure was applied by the automobile industry to help it escape the proposed California regulations. Officials from the states and numerous environmental groups vowed to sue to overturn the edict.

Stephen Johnson, EPA administrator: “The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules. I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone.”

The emissions standards California proposed in 2004 — but never approved by the federal government — would have forced automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016, with the cutbacks to begin in 2009 models.

Industry analysts and environmental groups said the E.P.A. decision had the appearance of a reward to the industry, in return for dropping its opposition to the energy legislation. Auto industry leaders issued statements supporting the new energy law, which gives them more time to improve fuel economy than California would have.

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