Kos diarist Devilstower isn't satisfied--because the EPA recently denied California's request to adopt stricter mileage standards for new vehicles purchased within the state. DT called Johnson's decision "nonsense" designed to block global warming mitigation from "be[ing] addressed anywhere." Is DT right? Nope.
- Background: For over 40 years, Congress has passed a variety of environmental laws including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA, or Superfund). Although State and municipal governments retained jurisdiction over localized environmental problems, these laws, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, reflected a consensus that "green" issues were a national concern requiring nationwide solutions.
The amended CAFE standard is the newest, and strictest, unified Federal environmental policy. It was passed by overwhelming majorities in Congress with the active support of the Bush Administration. The new law--which will be phased-in over time--mandates a 40 percent improvement on the previous 27.5 mpg fleet average mileage (which took effect in 1985). When fully implemented, new cars will operate at almost triple the average fuel economy available in the early 1970s.
- State law exception: Because some California environmental cleanup laws predated Federal legislation, a narrowly-crafted California-only exception is codified at Section 209 of the Clean Air Act allowing the EPA to sanction more restrictive state laws unless "such State does not need such State standards to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions." Since the late 1960s, California has submitted nearly 100 waiver requests, most of which have been approved (albeit in part or with conditions).
- California's requested waiver: In December 2005, while previous versions of the CAFE amendment bills were debated, the State of California sought an EPA waiver to implement a rule that cars sold within the state meet stricter mileage standards of 36 mpg by 2016.
On December 19, after the new CAFE mandate of 35 mpg by 2020 became law, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson denied California's request. He published a detailed explanation last Friday.
- Has the Administration stonewalled global warming?: DT says so. Yet, both the Bush Administration and Congress intended the new law to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and thereby ameliorate alleged global warming. For example, when the White House said the new CAFE standard
represents a major step forward in expanding the production of renewable fuels, reducing our dependence on oil, and confronting global climate change. It will increase our energy security, expand the production of renewable fuels, and make America stronger, safer, and cleaner for future generations.Indeed, President Bush supported the amendment in part because it would:
help us improve our environment. It is estimated that these initiatives could reduce projected CO2 emissions by billions of metric tons. At the U.N. climate change meeting in Bali last week our nation promised to pursue new, quantifiable actions to reduce carbon emissions. Today we're doing just that. The legislation I'm signing today will lead to some of the largest CO2 emission cuts in our nation's history.Independent observes not necessarily friendly to Bush agree the new law should "deliver a reduction in greenhouse gases equivalent to taking 28 million of today's cars and trucks off the road."
- Is EPA Administrator Johnson ignoring global warming or disregarding California's concerns?: DT thinks so too. Yet the EPA ruling itself agreed that "global climate change is a serious challenge." Further, the decision did not presume to second-guess California's policy regarding greenhouse gases:
With respect to the deference due to California’s policy judgments on the best way to protect the public health and welfare of its residents, EPA is not addressing or changing its traditional interpretation and practice concerning deference to California’s judgment with respect to [the waiver provision]. EPA’s role. . . is not to substitute its judgment for California’s on the importance, value, or benefit for California that might be derived from a specific set of GHG standards and the related reductions, assuming it is otherwise appropriate for California to adopt its own GHG standards.
- Did the EPA ignore evidence of heightened warming in California?: DT says yes. But the evidence DT cites is not California-specific warming, but instead localized pollution. That simply wasn't at issue here: California's proposed regulations were titled "New Motor Vehicle Regulations and Incorporated Test Procedures to Control Greenhouse Gas Emissions," reflecting the state's focus on GHG emission reduction as the basis of its suggested mileage standard. Contrary to lefty claims, the EPA decision does not threaten preexisting California pollution rules.
Put differently, California did not establish GHGs, or temperatures, higher than the U.S. average. Thus, the EPA ruled California did "not need such State standards to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions" as required under Federal law to justify variant local requirements (see pages 17-18):
The air pollution problem at issue here is elevated atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and the concern is the impact these concentrations have on global climate change and the effect of global climate change on California. In contrast to local or regional air pollution problems, the atmospheric concentrations of these greenhouse gases is basically uniform across the globe, based on their long atmospheric life and the resulting mixing in the atmosphere. The factors looked at in the past – the geography and climate of California, and the large motor vehicle population in California, which were considered the fundamental causes of the air pollution levels found in California - no longer perform the same causal function. The atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases in California is not affected by the geography and climate of California. The long duration of these gases in the atmosphere means they are well-mixed throughout the global atmosphere, such that their concentrations over California and the U.S. are, for all practical purposes, the same as the global average. The number of motor vehicles in California, while still a notable percentage of the national total and still a notable source of GHG emissions in the State, bears no more relation to the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over California than any other comparable source or group of sources of greenhouse gases anywhere in the world. Emissions of greenhouses gases from California cars do not generally remain confined within California’s local environment but instead become one part of the global pool of GHG emissions, with this global pool of emissions leading to a relatively homogenous concentration of greenhouse gases over the globe. Thus, the emissions of motor vehicles in California do not affect California’s air pollution problem in any way different from emissions from vehicles and other pollution sources all around the world. Similarly, the emissions from California’s cars do not just affect the atmosphere in California, but in fact become one part of the global pool of GHG emissions that affect the atmosphere globally and are distributed throughout the world, resulting in basically a uniform global atmospheric concentration.After all, leftists label the issue global warming, not California carbon dioxide. And imagine the outcome had the waiver been granted: because the vehicle market is nationwide, DT's approach would allow one state to set national environmental policy--precisely what EPA, and the mosaic of Federal laws, were intended to avoid.
- Was there a political conspiracy?: DT doesn't hesitate to speculate: "To what extent did dictates from the White House convince Johnson to completely ignore the scientific and legal advice of the EPA staff?" As noted above, DT confuses increased pollution with heightened GHG emissions and temps. But assuming Johnson or the White House did make the final call--as California Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein imply and Kos commenters presume--so what? As I have written, Presidents overrule scientists all the time; science alone shouldn't settle policy. Instead, that's the function of elections--with outcomes reflecting the reasoned outlook of the winners and their political appointees acting according to law.
- Conclusion: I don't think significant warming exists or is caused by man. I dispute our ability to affect warming by reducing greenhouse gasses and the cost effectiveness of doing so. But there's no question but that President Bush, and EPA Administrator Johnson, disagree with each of those positions. Heaven only knows why--because lefties like DT won't ever credit this Administration with anything, no matter how liberal.
I wish the nut-roots would research before writing and read more carefully. More importantly, I'd like to persuade progressives that, for the most part, we share the same aims--and thus they should quit presuming conservatives and Republicans act in bad faith.