WASHINGTON — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Wednesday that a lawsuit to force the federal government to permit California to move forward with its tough vehicle emissions is now "inevitable."
Earlier, California Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat, pledged that a lawsuit would be filed in October against the Environmental Protection Agency unless it issued a Clean Air Act waiver allowing California to force new cars and light trucks to meet stricter emissions standards than federal law requires.
The Republican governor told EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson in a letter Wednesday that a lawsuit is now a virtual certainty. It followed Johnson's testimony before an ad hoc House of Representatives global warming panel on Friday in which he said he wouldn't decide on the state's application until the fall of 2008.
California is the only state that's permitted to have tougher laws than the federal government to control air pollution under the Clean Air Act, but to do so it must have a waiver. Once issued, other states are free to adopt the California standard. So far, at least 13 other states have enacted, or soon will enact, laws following California's lead on greenhouse gas emissions.
The state's waiver application has been pending since 2005. The state gave notice in April that it would file a lawsuit in October unless the agency made a determination on the waiver by then.
Since then, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA is obligated to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The agency has held an administrative hearing on the state's application, but the only pronouncements have been Johnson's testimony that a decision is at least another year away.
Schwarzenegger said there is no wiggle room left for the Bush administration.
"The EPA must grant California's waiver," the governor wrote. "There is simply no legal justification to do otherwise."
The California law would require auto manufacturers to meet emissions standards lowering tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide to 1990 levels by 2020.
The California standards recently have been in jeopardy of being overturned on legislation proposed in the House by Democrats from states with heavy coal production or domestic auto industry presence. The fight has stalled a House panel's vote on the draft legislation for at least a week and has spawned a political scandal.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., opened an investigation this week into a Transportation Department official's calls to congressional members that appears to lobby against the California waiver, a possible violation of federal law.
In a voice mail left on the telephone of a congressional staffer, special assistant Heideh Shahmoradi indicated that the Transportation Department was soliciting comments to the EPA opposing the waiver.
"We just wanted to let you know that if California were to receive this waiver it could lead to a patchwork of regulations on vehicle emissions, which could have significant impacts on the light truck and car industry," the voice mail said.
"We're gauging to see if your boss would be interested in submitting comments or reaching out to your governor's office for them to submit comments" to the EPA, the message said.
Waxman told Transportation Secretary Mary Peters in a letter Monday that the voice mail "raises serious concerns."
"It is not an appropriate use of federal resources to lobby members of Congress to oppose state efforts to protect the environment," Waxman said.
But Transportation Department General Counsel Rosalind Knapp promptly refuted Waxman's charges, saying there's nothing improper in the agency contacting congressional members regarding a matter pending before the EPA.