The favorable ruling still leaves many issues unresolved.
Emissions law could still face hurdles
Despite a favorable Supreme Court ruling, another suit, the EPA or Congress could still stymie state legislation.
By Janet Wilson and Tim Reiterman
Times Staff Writers
April 3, 2007
California won a major victory in its campaign to regulate greenhouse gases on Monday. But the battle is not over.
The state still faces challenges on two fronts — at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and in a lawsuit by automakers — before it can implement its landmark law slashing greenhouse gas emissions from car exhaust. Even if California prevails, Congress could end up passing weaker national legislation that would supersede the state's.
"I think it's a very tough call right now," Harvard University environmental law professor Jody Freeman said when asked whether the state's mandate to have cleaner cars on the road by 2009 would be met. "I don't think the chances are great, because I think there's reason to believe Congress will act before EPA." Freeman filed a brief supporting greenhouse-gas regulation in the case decided Monday by the Supreme Court.
But others said the defeat suffered by the auto industry and the Bush administration at the hands of the high court should greatly improve the chances of California and several other states that seek to follow its lead in curtailing gases that contribute to global warming.
At a San Francisco news conference, state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown called the ruling a "resounding affirmation of California's actions to address global warming." Brown's office is defending the state's statute against the automakers' lawsuit.
The automakers argue in several pending cases that state regulation of greenhouse gases is illegal because it amounts to regulating the fuel efficiency of cars and only federal transportation officials can do that.
The Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases can be regulated as air pollutants. For the EPA to regulate, it must first determine that science shows global warming is harmful to human health and welfare.
But even if the EPA decides greenhouse gases should be regulated to protect public health, the agency could still deny California's long-delayed request to implement its own law by saying that the problem is global and not unique to the state, Freeman said.
Because of California's extreme air pollution and existing laws, it was granted the right under the Clean Air Act to pass its own air pollution rules, provided the federal government signs off with a waiver. Other states can then follow California's lead, and 10 have passed such laws and are waiting for the waiver.
To get a waiver, California must show compelling and extraordinary conditions, Freeman said.