Top California officials implored an Environmental Protection Agency panel Tuesday for permission to impose reductions on greenhouse gases from cars and other vehicles.
If California gets the federal waiver it needs to implement its emissions law, at least 11 other states are prepared to follow its lead.
"This is more important than any issue that EPA's going to have to face," California Attorney General Jerry Brown told an EPA air quality hearing board.
Brown asked the regulators to relay a message to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.
"We want him to speak truth to power," said Brown. "There is a tremendous influence of the oil industry. We know Cheney and Bush
are oilmen, they think like oil folks. ... We say grant the waiver."
The EPA panel was led by Margo Oge, director of EPA's office of transportation and air quality. She gave no indication of how the agency might be leaning as a daylong hearing got under way, including testimony from the auto industry, officials from other states and environmentalists.
At issue is a 2002 California law that requires automakers to cut emissions by 25 percent from cars and light trucks and 18 percent from sport utility vehicles starting with the 2009 model year. The law can't take effect unless California gets a federal waiver.
While air pollution standards typically are set by the federal government, California has a unique status under the federal Clean
Air Act that allows the state to enact its own rules as long as it receives permission from the EPA. Other states can then choose to
follow either the federal or California standards.
The EPA has declined to say how it will act on the waiver request, and Tuesday's hearing came after more than a year of inaction since the state submitted its petition in 2005.
Meanwhile, the auto industry has sued California and Vermont in an attempt to block the regulation, arguing that emissions standards are de-facto fuel economy standards which can only be set by the federal government.
Charles Territo, a spokesman with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in Washington, D.C., said before the hearing that the
industry will ask the EPA to deny California's request in favor of a national program to curb greenhouse gases.
Territo said the industry also plans to challenge California's legal standing, saying the state has not met certain legal criteria for a waiver under the Clean Air Act. He declined to offer specifics.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month said the state will sue if the EPA does not act on the state's request by October 25.
"We're preparing a lawsuit but we certainly don't want to bring it," Brown told the panel Tuesday.
The auto regulations are a key part of California's overall strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists blame for the Earth's warming temperature over the last three decades.
The state is the world's 12th largest producer of greenhouse gas
emissions, 40 percent of which come from transportation sources.
The state last year embarked on a statewide effort to reduce emissions by 25 percent by 2020. A 2006 law relies on the auto regulations to accomplish 17 percent of the overall target.
President Bush last week signed an executive order giving federal agencies until the end of 2008 to continue studying the threat of greenhouse gas emissions and what to do about them. Critics fear the directive could undermine state efforts.
In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Monday, Schwarzenegger and Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Bush's directive "sounds like more of the same inaction and denial."
Associated Press Writer Samantha Young in Sacramento contributed
to this report.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)