Associated Press | By SAMANTHA YOUNGSACRAMENTO, Calif. -
California sued the federal government in its struggle to set the country's first greenhouse gas limits on cars, trucks and SUVs, asking the Environmental Protection Agency to review its decision to deny the state a waiver that would allow it and 16 other states to regulate emissions.
Dismissing California's arguments that it faced unique threats from climate change, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said last month the federal government had a national plan to raise fuel economy standards. California officials on Wednesday provided new data in an attempt to show their program is superior to the federal plan.
"I think we are coming back strong not only with our legal case, but our technical justification," California Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols told reporters in a conference call.
Johnson said energy legislation signed by President Bush would raise fuel economy standards to an average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, which he called a more effective approach to reducing greenhouse gases than a patchwork of state regulations.
California officials say their more aggressive law would require the auto industry to cut emissions by one-third in new vehicles by 2016, boosting efficiency to about 36.8 mpg.
EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said in an e-mail statement Wednesday that federal estimates show California's law would achieve reductions to only 33.8 mpg.
But an analysis released by state air regulators showed their 2004 tailpipe regulation would be faster and tougher than the federal fuel economy rules.
By 2016, California's standard would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that vehicles produce by 45.4 million metric tons a year in California and the 12 other states that have already adopted the rules. That's nearly double the 23.4 million metric tons the report forecast would be cut under the federal fuel-efficiency standards, according to the analysis, which was based on EPA air pollution modeling.
By 2020, the California law would achieve a 44 mpg standard if the state extended its law as regulators have suggested, the report said.
Nichols said the report shows the EPA's rationale for denying the waiver was wrong. She and a coalition of environmental groups also challenged Johnson's claim that California does not face extraordinary conditions from climate change.
Scientists say rising seas could erode the state's coastline and top its levees, while warming temperatures are expected to reduce the Sierra snowpack, leading to a potential water crisis.
"He's wrong factually and legally," said David Doniger, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which led environmental groups in filing a similar lawsuit Wednesday. "No other state can claim to be affected in so many serious ways as California."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement that EPA officials "are ignoring the will of millions of people who want their government to take action in the fight against global warming."
California Attorney General Jerry Brown filed the lawsuit Wednesday in San Francisco's 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is viewed as more friendly to the state's position than other federal courts. Brown said he expects the Bush administration will seek to transfer the case to the more conservative Washington, D.C.-based appeals court.
"We understand this is a long fight that may go to the Supreme Court," Brown said. "We feel this is going to be a struggle."
Twelve other states - Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington - have adopted California's emissions standards, and others have said they plan to do so. The 12 states, along with Arizona, Delaware and Illinois, said Wednesday they plan to intervene in support of California.
"Today, there is simply no environmental issue more compelling - or extraordinary - than the increasing threat of climate change," New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.
The EPA's Dec. 19 decision was a victory for automakers, which argued that they would be forced to reduce their selection of vehicles and raise prices in states that adopted California's standards.
It was the first time the EPA had fully denied California a waiver under the Clean Air Act since Congress gave the state the right to obtain such waivers in 1967.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents General Motors Corp. (nyse: GM - news - people ), Ford Motor Co. (nyse: F - news - people ), Chrysler LLC, Toyota Motor Corp. (nyse: TM - news - people ) and six other automakers, favors the federal plan, spokesman Charles Territo said.
"We agree with EPA that a national policy is important to avoid a patchwork quilt of state regulations," Territo said.
The EPA's denial angered members of Congress, including California Democrats. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Henry Waxman, who chair the committees that oversee the EPA, said the agency ignored the legal requirements of the Clean Air Act.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Wednesday called on the agency's inspector general to investigate allegations that Johnson acted against recommendations from his technical and legal staff in denying the waiver.
Last week, the EPA said it would turn over all documents about its decision to congressional committees that have promised hearings. The documents would include records of the EPA's communications with the White House.
The auto regulations are a major part of California's global warming law, which aims to reduce greenhouse gases statewide by 25 percent by 2020. Auto emissions account for about 17 percent of the state's proposed reductions.
Nichols said the California air board is reviewing other measures it could impose on automobile manufacturers if the lawsuit fails or delays the state's regulations from taking effect.
Associated Press writers Paul Elias in San Francisco and Ken Thomas in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.