The Bush administration came under heavy fire yesterday from environmentalists and politicians of both major parties after it refused to allow California and 16 other states to go ahead with new regulations curbing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle exhaust pipes.
Critics accused the White House of sabotaging a key part of the fight against global warming, and California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, said he would sue the federal government to have the ruling overturned. The stand-off is part of a long-running ideological battle between President Bush and his advisers, who have delayed, denied or undermined efforts to regulate greenhouse gases ever since they abandoned the Kyoto protocol within the first few months of his administration, and a growing number of politicians who believe time is of the essence to reverse the effects of global warming.
Bill Richardson, who was energy secretary under President Clinton and now, as Governor of New Mexico, is one of the state leaders behind California's proposed new legislation, said the Bush administration was demonstrating "a complete lack of legal, moral and policy leadership on climate change and threatens to close the door on the single most aggressive and effective means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions".
The head of California's Air Resources Board, Mary Nichols, added: "This administration ignores the science and ignores the law to reach the politically convenient conclusion."
For several decades, states have needed a special waiver from the Federal Environmental Protection Agency to pass anti-pollution laws that go beyond the provisions laid out by Congress. California has obtained about 50 EPA waivers in the past.
It has been waiting for the go-ahead on new regulations on exhaust pipe emissions since 2005, seeing cleaner vehicle exhaust as a key part of its stated ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. Sixteen other states, representing half of the US population, have either drafted or passed legislation following California's lead.
The Bush administration did two things this week finally approving an increase in fuel efficiency standards of about 40 per cent on most cars and trucks by 2020, and using that approval as part of its justification to deny California's waiver.
"The question is how to have an effective strategy," President Bush said in a news conference. "Is it more effective to let each state make a decision as to how to proceed in curbing greenhouse gases or is it more effective to have a national strategy?" Leading congressional Democrats said they were opening a formal inquiry into the EPA's waiver denial. The California senator Dianne Feinstein called the decision "disgraceful".
Governor Schwarzenegger accused Washington of obstruction and vowed to keep fighting in court. "California sued to compel the agency to act on our waiver, and now we will sue to overturn today's decision and allow Californians to protect our environment," he said.