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EPA Rulings Choke States

September 03, 2003

To counter the damage that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is doing to air quality regulation, states need to fight furiously to retain their own authority over clean air. That goes double for California.

The rule-burning in Washington doesn't even have internal logic. During the 2000 presidential campaign, President Bush specifically promised to regulate greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, which are blamed for global warming. He didn't do it, and last week the EPA gave him an excuse, declaring that Congress never gave it specific authority to regulate such gases.

On the other hand, just one day earlier, the EPA, without consulting Congress, radically changed one of the key rules of the federal Clean Air Act, known as "new source review." That means power companies and others in big industries will no longer have to reduce emissions when they upgrade their plants. Power companies had identified the regulation as one of their chief gripes.

The Bush administration boasts that it makes decisions on the basis of "sound science," but these EPA rulings are not reasonable except in the context of pleasing the energy industry.

Just as backward-looking is the administration's decision last week to support a lawsuit aimed at killing local rules that have cut toxic diesel pollution and fostered improved natural-gas-engine technology. The South Coast Air Quality Management District's rules, passed in 2000 and 2001, require local governments and private operators in four Southern California counties to replace their soot-belching diesel trash trucks, street sweepers, transit buses and school buses with clean-burning models when the old ones wear out. Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen. The rules -- and a state subsidy that helps to defray the cost of natural gas vehicles -- have put nearly 7,000 cleaner new vehicles on the road.

To counter this clean-air backsliding, California will have to fight for its own standards, starting with a bill to maintain the state's stricter new source review. The measure, SB 288 by Sen. Byron Sher (D-Stanford), is expected to come up for a vote on the Senate floor this week. Gov. Gray Davis has endorsed it.

The EPA ruling that only Congress can authorize regulation of greenhouse gases may threaten California's first-in-the-nation program to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions by cars and trucks beginning with the 2009 model year. The state environmental agency says it will sue to demand that the EPA regulate carbon dioxide as a contributor to global warming.

California has long had the right to maintain air pollution control rules that are stronger than the national ones because the state had uniquely bad air problems.

Far from harming the state's business climate, better air quality is a requirement for any business hoping to compete for quality employees. The administration's favors to the energy industry do the overall economy no good at all. Whatever California's elected officials can do to keep the state from backsliding is a favor to both families and most businesses.

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