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EPA is getting heat over California's tailpipe law

July 27, 2007|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has received 60,000 comments on California's effort to implement its own landmark global-warming law.

But that wasn't enough for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and California's other allies in Congress, who added their own Thursday.

Democratic senators launched a new offensive to prod the EPA to act on the state's December 2005 request for a waiver to impose stricter limits on vehicle emissions, summoning the agency's head to Capitol Hill to condemn his "foot-dragging."

"Unacceptable," fumed Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.). "Get on with it."

EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is headed by Boxer.

Lawmakers are gathering support for legislation that would force the EPA to decide by the end of September.

California dodged a political bullet when Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), an auto industry ally, considered but then dropped a proposal weeks ago to prohibit states from taking tougher action than Washington to reduce vehicle emissions.

Since then, legislation to direct the EPA to act on California's request has been introduced by Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) and by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Boxer. It has picked up the support of lawmakers from other states, a number of which have adopted tailpipe laws like California's.

Lawmakers are also expected to try to attach the legislation as an amendment to the annual bill that funds the EPA.

Boxer's decision to call Johnson back to Capitol Hill for his second grilling before her panel on California's request was another sign of the clash between Congress and the Bush administration. Democrats have pledged to pass global warming legislation; the administration says mandatory limits on carbon emissions could damage the economy.

"Congress must act to provide a clear, comprehensive legislative framework with mandatory caps to address global warming," Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said. "But until we do so, the states must be free to act to begin addressing this compelling problem."

Under the Clean Air Act, California can set stricter anti-pollution rules than the federal government, but only if the EPA approves. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has threatened to sue to force the EPA to act.

Johnson said that he had committed to deciding by the end of the year but that the agency needed time to go through the comments it had received. This is the first time the EPA has considered regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, he noted.

His promise did not satisfy Boxer, who has used her leadership of the committee that oversees the EPA to watch out for her state's interests. She accused Johnson of "neglecting your responsibility" to protect the public's health and expressed "doubt about this administration's seriousness about getting on with the crucial business of combating global warming."

Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe, the panel's top Republican and a leading skeptic of man-made global warming, told Johnson: "Mr. Administrator, I expect you to fully deliberate this important issue so that all the facts and considerations are taken into account."

Inhofe then questioned why California needed to enact tougher emission rules than the rest of the nation.

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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