California's states'-rights battle against the Bush administration over global warming was freed to move forward in federal court Friday, after the Environmental Protection Agency issued its long-delayed justification for blocking the state's 2002 law curbing greenhouse emissions from cars and trucks.
EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson had written to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in December that he would not grant a waiver of the Clean Air Act, normally a routine action, allowing the state to enact its own curbs on carbon dioxide and other planet-warming gases.
But the federal agency had postponed publishing its written justification in the Federal Register, thus stalling the court case brought by California, 18 other states and seven environmental groups.
The EPA administrator's decision sparked protests from 14 governors, while members of Congress called hearings into why Johnson had overruled EPA staff scientists who recommended he grant the waiver.
Congressional Democrats think the decision was politically motivated and have sought correspondence between the agency and the White House.
"I based my decision to deny California's waiver request on the facts and the law, not on winning a popularity contest," Johnson said in an e-mail Friday.
The 47-page document to be published in the Federal Register focuses on a Clean Air Act clause that motor vehicle waivers be issued to California on the grounds of "compelling and extraordinary" circumstances in the state, which had begun regulating emissions before the 1970 federal law.
Other states were permitted under the Clean Air Act to adopt California's standards if they were stricter than federal rules.
California at the time had the dirtiest air in the nation, and today 90% of Californians still breathe unhealthy air, according to scientists.
That pollution is exacerbated by global warming, California officials argued in requesting a waiver to regulate tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide.
Greenhouse gases trap heat below the atmosphere, creating rising temperatures that boost ozone and other pollutants, which results in respiratory illnesses, scientists say.
But Johnson wrote: "While I find that the conditions related to global climate change in California are substantial, they are not sufficiently different from conditions in the nation as a whole to justify separate state standards."
"California's precipitation increases are not qualitatively different from changes in other areas," he added. "Rises in sea level in the coastal parts of the United States are projected to be as severe, or more severe, particularly in consequences, in the Atlantic and Gulf regions than in the Pacific regions . . . and while California's temperatures have increased by more than the national average, there are other places in the United States with higher or similar increases in temperature."
California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown dismissed Johnson's arguments as "obfuscating, sabotaging . . . specious, ill-founded. . . . We're going to fight him until he's sent packing by the next president."
Environmentalists said Johnson's arguments ignore the fact that 18 states have either adopted the California rules or pledged to do so, and the resulting curbs on greenhouse gas emissions would have beneficial effects across the nation.
Other states that want to curb greenhouse gases from trucks and cars "are hopping mad" over the EPA's decision, said S. William Becker, executive director of the National Assn. of Clean Air Agencies. "This is a shameful attack on states' rights."
Johnson has argued that a fleetwide fuel efficiency standard of 35 miles per gallon, signed into law in December, will sufficiently curb greenhouse gases.
But state regulators counter that California's law would achieve twice the reduction as the fuel standards by 2020.