Friends of the Earth, Others join CA Lawsuit over Vehicle Emissions

Friends of the Earth, Others join CA Lawsuit over Vehicle Emissions


Eugene, OR — On behalf of eight conservation organizations and one individual in Oregon, Washington, California and Arizona* the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) moved to intervene on the side of California, in that state’s lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over California’s law to reduce vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The lawsuit, filed by the State of California this morning, charges EPA with unreasonable delay in giving California the go-ahead to implement its own vehicle GHG emission limits program. To combat global warming, California adopted tougher emission laws in 2004, and Oregon and Washington adopted the limits in 2005. Today, thirteen states, in addition to Oregon and Washington, are poised to adopt California’s emission reduction program: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

California sought a waiver from EPA to implement its own tighter regulations, as is required under the Clean Air Act, in December 2005. Nearly two years later, EPA has failed to act on California’s request. As WELC’s intervention motion makes clear, the denial of that waiver holds up not only California, but also those other states that adopted the same tailpipe GHG limits, thereby impairing their efforts to reduce global warming.

According to WELC attorney Dan Galpern, who filed the intervention motion, “While the Bush administration highlights and lauds state climate change initiatives — in order to deflect international criticism of its own failure to adopt binding national limits — the EPA thwarts the most significant state measure. This unlawful delay, compounded by hypocrisy, is exceptionally lethal in that it presses the climate system toward a tipping point beyond which there is virtually no return.”

Initiatives to reduce GHG emissions from vehicles constitute one of the key mitigation measures identified by the Nobel laureate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to arrest the projected growth of global GHG emissions. If the states’ programs are allowed to go into effect, by 2016, GHG emissions from new passenger cars and light trucks will cut by a third.

According to K.C. Golden, Policy Director of Climate Solutions, “vehicle emissions are one of the largest sources of global warming pollution in Washington and Oregon, as in other states. Limiting this pollution is one of the most effective and economically attractive climate solutions available to us.”

The vehicle GHG limits at issue require automakers to restrict emissions commencing with their 2009 model year vehicles. A given model year begins as early as January 2 of the previous calendar year. Accordingly, EPA’s delay into 2008 may impede state efforts to regulate 2009 model-year GHG emissions. If EPA continues to obstruct states’ efforts until the end of the Bush administration, the GHG emission reduction could be delayed until 2011 model year vehicles are in place.

“States are supposed to be laboratories of innovation, and that’s just what California and others are trying to do in the fight against global warming,” said Danielle Fugere, Regional Program Director of Friends of the Earth. “But the Bush administration, apparently not content to block progress at the federal level, is trying to hold back states’ progress too. If the federal government isn’t going to take the lead, the least it can do is get out of the states’ way.”

The intervening organizations lauded their state attorneys general for assuming leadership on climate change. “It is the right course for Washington to continue to be a leader on climate change — we were when we passed Clean Cars in 2005 and will keep it up,” said Joan Crooks, Executive Director of Washington Environmental Council. “In the face of federal inaction, states are naturally stepping up.”

In comments to the EPA in June, the conservation organizations warned that present trends of increasing atmospheric GHG concentrations likely will result in severe impacts to west coast states. Oregon and Washington, for example, are likely to experience shifting isotherms and changes in vegetation zones, rising sea levels, a declining snowpack, warmer stream and river temperatures, and an increase in drought stress rendering forests more vulnerable to insect infestation, disease, and fire.

“For over three decades, we have worked to protect old-growth forests, pristine wildlands, and healthy rivers and streams,” said Steve Pedery, Conservation Director of Oregon Wild. “Oregon’s natural heritage faces a growing threat in global warming, and we are joining this court case to protect the fish, wildlife, and wild places that define our state.”

In California, continuation of present trends likely will lead to a loss of up to 90 percent of Sierra snowpack during the next century, sea water intrusion into the state’s delta and levee systems, and forest fires of increasing intensity and frequency. Massive species losses are likely. “Not only polar bears, but thousands of other species — including many in west coast states — are headed towards extinction, and further delay ensures only catastrophe,” said Kassie Siegel, Climate, Air, and Energy Program Director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

WELC’s intervention in California’s suit occurs at the same time that numerous states are intervening in the matter. According to WELC attorney Galpern, “the intervention by state attorneys generals is also important. By these actions, the states and citizen groups are moving jointly for a court order to compel EPA to at long last comply with the law and unleash the states to enforce their own initiatives to arrest climate change.”

*WELC is representing, in this action, Washington Environmental Council, Climate Solutions, Environment Washington, Oregon Wild, Environment Oregon, 3EStrategies, Angus Duncan, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Friends of the Earth.

Client Organization Contacts:

Tom Geiger, Communications & Outreach Director
Washington Environmental Council
206-622-8103, ext 203

K.C. Golden, Policy Director
Climate Solutions
206-443-9570, ext 21

Steve Pedery, Conservation Director
Oregon Wild (formerly Oregon Natural Resources Council)
503-283-6343 ext. 212

Nick Berning, Press Secretary
Friends of the Earth

Brian Nowicki, California Climate Policy Director
Center for Biological Diversity
(916) 201-6938