CLIMATE:

Calif. seeks quick reversal on EPA auto waiver decision

California yesterday asked the Obama administration to speedily reconsider a waiver request to regulate vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and indicated that if given a green light, the state would immediately hold automakers to the tougher standards.

In letters to President Barack Obama and EPA Administrator nominee Lisa Jackson, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols yesterday asked the new administration to reconsider last year's denial of a waiver that would allow California and 13 other states to implement tailpipe emissions standards for all passenger vehicles.

Schwarzenegger stressed the overall importance of regulating passenger vehicle emissions, while Nichols proposed grounds on which EPA could re-evaluate its decision and allow California to begin regulating automakers immediately.

Nichols said EPA would not need to restart the entire process of rulemaking and public comment, which lasted from December 2005 through the beginning of 2008. "Because EPA has already noticed and held hearings on our request and would be reconsidering its decision, we do not believe any additional hearings are warranted or required," Nichols wrote. "At most, all that is needed now is a short supplemental comment period to allow limited updating to responses to the questions EPA originally noticed."

"The reason we don't have to start from square one and do an entirely new waiver request is the range of issues we want them to reconsider are relatively small, in proportion to the whole process, so that's why we think it could move through in fairly quick time," said ARB spokesman Stanley Young.

If EPA decides to reconsider the case and reverse the decision, California officials would expect automakers to comply with its rules immediately. "The regulations have been ready to rock and roll since 2005," Young said. "We have a timetable, and if they decide to go with the original timetable, which is 2009, we just move forward as it's been laid out."

Nichols also proposed in her letter that automakers be given credits for complying with the 2009 model year averages of 323 grams of CO2 emissions per mile for passenger cars and 439 grams per mile for large trucks and sport utility vehicles. Those credits could be applied to later compliance deadlines, she said. "It is our understanding that because all manufacturers can comply with California's 2009 model-year greenhouse gas fleet average, all manufacturers would obtain credits that would carry forward to future model-years, rendering the 2009 model-year a moot issue in this waiver reconsideration process," she wrote.

Young added that the automakers admitted in court that they would be able to comply with the regulations on time, referring to a 2007 Vermont Supreme Court decision that found automakers would be able to meet California's standards (E&ENews PM, Sept. 12, 2007).

A federal court ruled in June that manufacturers should not be given extra time to comply if U.S. EPA grants the waiver (Greenwire, June 25, 2008).

Federal transition delays decisionmaking

Jackson said in her confirmation hearing last week that she would review the waiver decision "very, very aggressively, very soon," but her nomination has been delayed by a hold placed by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), over concerns about the role of the White House energy and climate change office.

EPA spokeswoman Roxanne Smith said yesterday that the agency was hamstrung by the transition and the delay caused by the hold. "We're looking for direction from the new folks," she said. "A few just arrived today, they're trying to get settled in. We have to take these questions to them and ask them how they want to respond. We haven't gotten a response on anything yet."

Industry representatives maintained that all manufacturers might not be ready this year. "We don't know which manufacturers would or wouldn't comply with the California standards because we don't know their product plans, what their sales will be, and at this point we don't even have a federal fuel economy standard beyond 2011," said spokesman Charles Territo of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler LLC, Toyota Motor Co. and others.

Consumers also might not be ready to purchase the compliant cars, Territo said. "While the law holds manufacturers and dealers responsible for complying with the standards, consumer purchases also play a huge role in determining whether a manufacturer meets, exceeds or falls short of the standard in any given year."

Click here to view the letter from Gov. Schwarzenegger to President Obama.

Click here to view the letter from CARB Chairwoman Nichols to EPA Administrator nominee Jackson.