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California Among 10 States Suing EPA Over Greenhouse Gases

April 28, 2006|Janet Wilson | Times Staff Writer

California and nine other states sued the Bush administration Thursday to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, which they said could dramatically reduce global warming.

"We're trying to get them to address the crisis of greenhouse gases and global climate warming," said Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer. He said that though California does not have coal-fired power plants, "we care because ... these power plants produce an extraordinary amount of the carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions, and if the planet warms, so does our ocean, as well as the Atlantic Ocean.... It affects us as well as the rest of the planet, so we have a stake in the outcome."

David Bookbinder, senior attorney with the Sierra Club, one of three environmental groups that filed a companion lawsuit, said, "Anyone who can read the plain English words of the Clean Air Act understands that carbon dioxide is a pollutant ... and the act tells EPA unequivocally it must regulate any pollutant related to human health or welfare."

A three-judge panel ruled last July that the EPA acted properly in rejecting a plea by 12 states, including California, to require reductions in gases linked to global warming. However, lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the latest suit argue that the ruling last year did not fully address the most important legal question: whether greenhouse gases can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

The EPA issued standards for other air pollutants Feb. 27, but agency officials reiterated that they did not have the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas affecting Earth's climate.

Scott Segal, an attorney with Bracewell & Giuliani, a firm that represents power producers, defended the EPA's reasoning, arguing that because carbon dioxide does not directly affect people's health like other emissions, it should not be classified as a pollutant. Segal added that he was confident the latest suit by the states would also fail.

Lockyer and others said a victory would help California and other states in separate legal battles with automakers who have sued to stop them from regulating greenhouse-gas-producing emissions from tailpipes. One of the car industry's claims is that because the EPA says it has no authority under federal law to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, neither does California or any other state.

If the states win the lawsuit filed Thursday in federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., it would negate that claim.

Besides California, the states that filed suit are Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. New York City and Washington, D.C., also sued.

In a statement Thursday, EPA press secretary Jennifer Wood said the agency "will review all options and make an informed decision on how to proceed." She said the EPA's climate protection programs continued to exceed the agency's greenhouse gas emissions goals and were on target to meet the president's aim of reducing greenhouse gas intensity 18% by 2012.

Frank Maisano, a spokesman for the energy industry, said the owners of coal-fired power plants were voluntarily taking part in those programs to increase efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide and other emissions.

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