WASHINGTON—California Attorney General Jerry Brown appealed Tuesday to the Environmental Protection Agency for a waiver so that it and 11 other states can impose rules on car and truck emissions more stringent than those permitted by the Clean Air Act in an effort to combat global warming.
Later, Brown took his message to Capitol Hill, telling the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that nothing is more essential now than for the United States to act boldly to curb carbon dioxide emissions that most scientists believe are causing the Earth to warm at a dangerous rate.
"This is bigger than Iraq," Brown told the Senate panel, headed by Sen. Barbara Boxer, also a California Democrat. "It is bigger than immigration. It's not tomorrow but it's coming around. The stakes have never been higher."
But there was no indication that Brown's pitch would move the EPA to grant the needed waiver that has been pending since 2005. Bush administration critics, including Brown, charged that the EPA is stalling any action in concert with the U.S. auto and petroleum industries.
Brown vowed to sue the agency if it doesn't issue the waiver by October.
California needs the waiver if it is to enforce a 2002 state law requiring automakers to cut emissions from cars and trucks by 30 percent by 2016. The California standard has since been adopted by 11 other states, and a half-dozen more are looking at it. A waiver for California would open the door to the tougher standard applying to a third of the cars and light trucks sold in the country.
The issue has taken on huge significance for the states because only California can seek exceptions under the Clean Air Act to national emission standards, because of its unique air quality problems. Many of California's large population centers have trouble combating air pollution that gets trapped in the valleys of this mountainous state.
Other states can adopt California standards once a waiver is issued. Many of those states, including New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Maine, sent witnesses to the EPA hearing to back California's claim.
Despite the overwhelming show of force by the states, the auto industry sent just one witness—Steve Douglas of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Douglas said California had not proven the need for the waiver, claiming that if it were granted, the auto industry would face a "patchwork" of unnecessary regulations.
"The auto industry seems to feel the White House is in their pocket," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental watchdog group. "My guess is that this will drag on, and it will be up to the next administration to see this through."
At the Senate hearing, Case Western Reserve University law school professor Jonathan H. Adler said California might not even qualify for a waiver in the case of global warming.
Adler said the act authorized waivers for California because of its "unique circumstances." But "global climate change by definition is global," he said.
Brown's appearance sparked some fireworks when Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the panel's senior Republican and the Senate's leading global warming skeptic, charged that the former state governor and one-time presidential aspirant was "grandstanding" on behalf of the state.
Inhofe called it the "height of hypocrisy" for the state to condemn the Bush administration for not acting on the waiver when it was in violation of the Clean Air Act for exceeding soot and ozone levels.
But Brown said soot and ozone problems would only worsen unless global warming is brought under control. He called the state's case "overwhelming," and he blamed the slow pace of the EPA on "raw politics."
"We know Bush is colluding with the automobile companies and the oil companies," Brown said. "He's an oil man."
EPA officials sat through the administrative hearing but gave no hint of how—or when—the agency might rule.
Boxer said she was calling Johnson to a hearing before her committee on June 21 and pledged that "I will personally leave this podium and give him a big hug" if the EPA head announces approval of the waiver then.