Timeline: Action vs. Obstruction

Mic Check Radio details California's long, hard road trying to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

This piece is from the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s Mic Check Radio.

On Thursday, November 8, 2007, the State of California sued the Environmental Protection Agency to force the agency into ruling on whether the state can have a waiver from the Clean Air Act and put its own, stricter clean air standards into effect. Here’s the situation so far:

The Backstory

The Issue: California wants to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. The state wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars by 30 percent by 2016. That means requiring cars to get 43.7 mile to gallon for passenger cars. Detroit News

The Stall: The state asked the EPA for a waiver allowing them to enact the new standards, but the EPA has delayed… and delayed… and delayed giving them a decision. AP

Why it’s important: A funny fact about national vehicle emissions laws: Only California can adopt automobile emission standards stricter than the federal standards, and other states must choose to follow either the federal standards or California’s. Federal automobile standards currently do not include greenhouse gas emissions, so states are lining up behind California’s plan. Only problem: The EPA has to approve a waiver for California before other states can follow its lead in curbing greenhouse gas. AP

Fact: The EPA has previously granted 50 full waivers and 40 partial ones. Number they’ve denied? 5. Last time they denied a waiver? 1975. Detroit News

What The Courts Say: The EPA first tried to dodge California by saying, sorry man, it’s not up to us; we don’t have jurisdiction to regulate greenhouse gasses. In April, the Supreme Court ruled that, yes, the EPA did have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. NY Times

14 other states will definitely adopt these standards if CA gets the waiver: Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. These states represent 40 percent of the U.S. auto market. ” AP

The Timeline: Action vs. Obstruction

July 24, 2002: California passes a law requiring automakers to “begin making vehicles that emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions by model year 2009.” Automakers immediately begin planning legal challenges. AP Sierra Club

2003-2004: The California Air Resources Board (or CARB) fleshes out detailed regulations to “achieve the maximum feasible and cost-effective reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from passenger cars and light trucks sold in California.” Union of Concerned Scientists

December 7, 2004: Automakers sue the government of California. ” Union of Concerned Scientists

September 24, 2005: CARB approves rules requiring automakers to cut global warming emissions 30 percent from 2009 to 2016. But the new regulations require an EPA waiver under the Clean Air Act. AP

2005: California asks EPA for a waiver to let them impose these tougher regulations. AP Wired

March 23, 2006: Oregon, Washington, and California embrace stronger auto emissions standards to create a “clean air corridor” for the West Coast. Union of Concerned Scientists

September 26, 2006: More than 100 members of Congress send a letter to the Bush administration urging the EPA to grant California the waiver. Union of Concerned Scientists

October 17, 2006: California joins seven Northeast states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Vermont, to cap carbon emissions, including automobile emissions. AP

February 2007: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that the Earth is “unequivocally” warming and that it is “very likely, a 90 percent probability, that most of the observed increase in temperatures is due to the observed increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.” ENS

February 2007: Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington announce the Western Climate Initiative, and all embrace California’s emission standards. Western Climate Initiative

April 3, 2007: The EPA first tried to dodge California by saying, sorry man, it’s not up to us; we don’t have jurisdiction to regulate greenhouse gasses. In April, the Supreme Court ruled that, yes, the EPA did have the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions NY Times

May 15, 2007: In response to the ruling, Bush asks federal agencies to “draw up” regulations to reduce greenhouse gasses. Critics say he is “simply delaying measures that he has the power to impose now.” Washington Post

April 2007: EPA still hasn’t ruled on the California standards. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warns the EPA he will sue if they don’t make their decision in six months. AP

April 25, 2007: Maryland Governor O’Malley signs a law making it the 12th state to adopt the California Clean Car standard. Union of Concerned Scientists

Summer 2007: EPA finally holds hearings on the California waiver request. EPA administrator Steven Johnson tells Congress he’ll have his decision by the end of the year. AP

Early June 2007: Behind the scenes, staff from the Department of Transportation get involved. They make calls to influential state lawmakers, urging them to contact the EPA and oppose California’s standards. House Government Oversight

June 12, 2007: House Government Oversight Chairman Henry “Mustache of Justice” Waxman, in a letter to the Department of Transportation, calls the behavior “highly inappropriate” and “considered by some to be illegal.” He writes, “It is not an appropriate use of federal resources to lobby members of Congress to oppose state efforts to protect the environment.” House Government Oversight

July 7, 2007: Florida becomes the 13th state to adopt California’s emissions standards. Union of Concerned Scientists

September 2007: A Vermont federal court rules that the California standards, copied in 13 other states, are legal, despite objections from the auto industry. NY Times

November 8, 2007: California sues EPA for dragging their feet and not approving or rejecting the stricter emissions standards. Says a Schwarzenegger spokesman, “The governor feels we have been patient enough. He has met with the EPA administrator and with the president on this and has sent letters to them both.” AP Financial Times

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.