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Since the birth of the modern Clean Air Act in 1967, California and only California has had the authority to deviate from federal rules to set its own standards for tailpipe emissions from motor vehicles. To be enforceable, California's standards must be more stringent than federal rules and must be granted an EPA waiver after the agency determines that California faces "compelling and extraordinary" conditions. Other states can then choose between following the federal standards and the California standards.
To date, the EPA says it has granted California about 50 such waivers and denied it just one--the state's most recent request to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
California's so-called Clean Car law would require cars sold in California and adopting states to begin reducing carbon dioxide and other global warming emissions in model year 2009 vehicles, with the goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2020. The backlash from automakers was immediate, and so were the lawsuits, which charged federal regulations pre-empted the rule.
As for the EPA, it appeared to do nothing at all.
California first asked the EPA for a waiver to enforce its Clean Car regulations in December 2005. The EPA maintained it didn't have jurisdiction to regulate greenhouse gases, but the Supreme Court rejected this argument in April 2007 in Massachusetts v. EPA.
Doniger says automakers can easily overcome difficulties associated with cost. For one, he says, the California program would create emissions allowances for manufacturers to alleviate the costs of compliance. And he claims consumers will actually come out on top--California's Air Resources Board calculated savings in gasoline as exceeding the extra cost of leasing a fuel-efficient car.
"We're waiting for some of the automakers to get the logic here," Doniger says. "It should be a good deal for [automakers] and the public, but instead it's a big fight."