WASHINGTON – Two industry groups have filed suit in federal court in an attempt to keep the federal government and the state of California from moving ahead with new greenhouse gas emissions rules for cars and trucks.
It’s a move that, if successful, could scuttle a key piece of the Obama administration’s plans to set strict emissions standards for vehicles nationwide.
The lawsuit may be the first of many legal challenges targeting President Barack Obama’s efforts to limit the heat-trapping emissions that scientists blame for global warming, efforts that some industry groups say could damage the domestic economy.
The suit filed Tuesday by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Automobile Dealers Association seeks to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from granting California a waiver under the Clean Air Act to set vehicle emissions standards.
That waiver was the subject of years of legal battles before the EPA granted it in July. The Bush administration initially rejected the request, but soon after his inauguration, Obama asked the EPA to reconsider.
At issue was how to interpret the Clean Air Act, which allows California to petition to set stricter pollution standards than the federal government.
In May, Obama announced an agreement with California officials, environmental groups and major automakers that would lead to the creation of a national vehicle emissions standard. It would have the effect of boosting fuel-economy requirements by 40 percent over the current 25 mpg level.
The national standards would largely mimic California’s; state officials made the granting of the waiver a condition for their final support.
The plaintiffs’ arguments in the lawsuit would not undermine that agreement explicitly. Instead they contend that granting the waiver would set a dangerous precedent of allowing a state to create regulations affecting what should be a national issue: global warming.
The chamber made a similar argument in a past court case, filing a brief in support of the Bush administration’s decision to deny California’s waiver request.
On Thursday, EPA officials released a statement defending their decision to grant the waiver, saying they acted “after a comprehensive analysis of the science and in adherence to the rule of law. The agency believes strongly it was the right decision.”
California officials criticized the lawsuit.
“We are very disappointed that these parties continue to pursue an outdated course of action designed to obstruct and oppose efforts to move us toward a cleaner environment and greater energy security,” said Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board.
The waiver lawsuit is likely the “leading edge” of a “hurricane of corporate challenges” to climate-related policies from Obama’s EPA, said Frank O’Donnell, president of the environmental group Clean Air Watch.