Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Maine joins call for EPA to let states cut emissions

Portland Press Herald

Staff Writer

Maine's environmental commissioner and a prominent Maine car dealer joined officials from California and other states on Tuesday as they demanded federal permission for states to set their own limits on greenhouse gases from cars and trucks.

An auto industry official dismissed the states' approach as "counterproductive."

California needs a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency to carry out a fuel efficiency and emissions law that's more stringent than federal standards.

Maine is one of at least 11 other states that are ready to follow its lead, and it has already passed a similar law. But states can't enforce such laws unless California gets permission first.

"This is more important than any issue that EPA's going to have to face," California Attorney General Jerry Brown told an EPA air quality hearing board at a public hearing in Arlington, Va.

David Littell, commissioner of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, argued for the waiver on behalf of eight Northeast states that hope to enforce California-style standards.

"Maine has a vital interest in reducing global warming emissions from vehicular and other sources in our state," Littell said.

More frequent and intense storms, increased damage from coastal flooding, harm to the maple syrup and skiing industries and stress on fishing grounds, forests and coastal ecosystems are some of the potential effects in the region from unchecked climate change, he said.

Littell also told the panel that Maine supports California's threat to sue the EPA if the agency doesn't issue a decision on the waiver by October.

California filed its application more than a year ago and has accused the agency of stalling.

The EPA panel gave no indication of how the agency might be leaning or when it will issue a decision.

At issue is a California law that requires automakers to cut emissions by 25 percent from cars and light trucks and 18 percent from sport utility vehicles starting with the 2009 model year.

Because the emissions are tied directly to fuel use, the law works by setting stricter fuel efficiency standards than those set by the federal government. The states are demanding that average vehicles get about 40 miles per gallon by 2016.

Fuel efficiency standards typically are set at the federal level, but California has a unique status under the federal Clean Air Act that allows it to enact its own air pollution rules as long as it receives permission from the EPA. Other states can then choose to follow the federal or California standards.

The hearing on Tuesday included two dozen witnesses from around the country who support California's law. "You had state after state after state stand up and say to the EPA, 'Lead or get out of the way,' " said Steve Hinchman, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation in Brunswick who testified at the hearing.

Adam Lee, president of Lee Auto Malls, also spoke in support of the states' stricter standards.

Cleaner and more efficient technologies are affordable and already exist, despite what manufacturers say, Lee told the panel. While gas-electric hybrids sell immediately at list price, he said, "cars that get poor fuel economy and pollute more are not selling very well."

California and other states could get U.S. manufacturers on track, Lee said.

"I am afraid that if they don't pick up the pace, not only will global warming continue to get much worse, I will be stuck with a lot full of cars that no one will buy. Or even worse: This country will no longer have a domestic car industry," he said. "I think the auto industry needs to try a little harder and I don't think they will try any harder until enough states force them to."

A lone voice of opposition came from Steve Douglas of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Douglas contended that California had not proven that its rules would actually reduce global warming, and that a national approach...

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