Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday said California will sue the federal government if the state is not allowed to implement its landmark law slashing greenhouse gases from vehicles within six months.
"The clock is ticking.... If we don't see quick action from the federal government, we will sue the U.S. EPA," said Schwarzenegger, speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills.
"I just had a conversation with [EPA Administrator] Steve Johnson, and I said we are going to sue him," the governor said. "I put him on notice that the federal government is moving too slow."
Environmental Protection Agency officials countered that they were moving "expeditiously" on California's request. But in a move that provoked immediate criticism, they also said Wednesday that they may link a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on greenhouse gases to California's request. If they do, it could delay the waiver decision yet again.
Under the federal Clean Air Act, California is allowed to pass its own air pollution laws but must first obtain a waiver from the EPA. The state submitted its waiver request in December 2005, after the law was passed.
After California receives permission, other states can follow its lead. Eleven other states have adopted similar tailpipe greenhouse gas laws.
For months, EPA officials had said that they would not grant California's request until the Supreme Court ruled on whether the federal agency is allowed to regulate greenhouse gases as air pollution.
The high court ruled three weeks ago that greenhouse gases are air pollution and that the EPA should regulate them unless they were not found to endanger public health.
William Wehrum, acting head of EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, said in an interview Wednesday that the agency now needed to decide whether California's waiver should be linked to a determination of whether greenhouse gases are an "endangerment."
"That's a pretty fundamental question ... whether there's a connection," Wehrum said. He said a decision on that and other legal questions would be made "soon."
California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown said the two were not legally linked and harshly criticized federal officials for considering it.
"They have no legal basis," Brown said. "In good faith they should grant the waiver. The request has been in for almost two years. If they're now going to sabotage the clean air process by pretending they don't know that greenhouse gases are harmful ... that would not be a decision based on science or the law, but a decision based on raw politics."
David Doniger, a lead attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council who defeated the EPA in the Supreme Court decision, agreed.
"It's California's choice" whether to regulate air pollution independently, he said. The Bush administration "is still looking for excuses to deny California the waiver, to stall it or deny it."
Schwarzenegger's staff said a letter was sent Wednesday giving the required six-months notice of intent to sue under the Clean Air Act for not allowing California to move forward with its law.
Carmakers have sued to stop the law's implementation in California, Vermont and elsewhere.
In his remarks at the conference, Schwarzenegger, a Republican, repeatedly distanced himself from the Bush administration's policies on global warming and said "the whole world should tell the federal government to wake up and do something about this."
Teased by conference host Michael Milken about his gas-guzzling Hummers, which emit high levels of greenhouse gases, Schwarzenegger said he was having both retrofitted to run on cleaner, renewable fuels.
But he said making people feel guilty about what they drive was not the answer, and insisted that energy issues and environmental concerns can be addressed with new technology.
"Women who have children like SUVs. We should let them keep their big SUVs and change the technology."