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EPA says Calif emissions waiver denied because problem not unique to state

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday justified blocking California from cracking down on auto emissions by saying the problems of global warming aren't unique to one state.

The EPA denial also blocked more than a dozen other states from implementing the tailpipe emissions reductions sought by California.

In a 48-page document describing the reasoning behind its much-criticized decision, the EPA argues that California doesn't have the "compelling and extraordinary conditions" required for a waiver under the Clean Air Act, because the rest of the nation also suffers the effects of global warming.

"In my judgment, the impacts of global climate change in California, compared to the rest of the nation as a whole, are not sufficiently different to be considered 'compelling and extraordinary conditions' that merit separate state GHG (greenhouse gas) standards for new motor vehicles," says the document signed by EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson.

Environmentalists and California officials disagreed, contending that California has been granted Clean Air Act waivers in the past to deal with problems that are also happening elsewhere, such as diesel pollution.

Critics also contend that California does, in fact, have uniquely worse problems from global warming than other states, including greater wildfire risks, air pollution and water supply shortages.

"Clearly Johnson hasn't spent much time in California. Doesn't he know the simple scientific fact that hotter air causes more smog?" said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of Clean Air Watch, a Washington advocacy group.

"This reads like something written up in the board room of General Motors," O'Donnell said.

Johnson has faced lawsuits and congressional subpoenas since making the decision in December. Also, internal agency documents have emerged showing that senior career staff at the agency believed he should grant the waiver.

"As I've pointed out, the law does not direct me to carry out a popularity contest," Johnson said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I needed to go by what the law directed me to do, informed by legislative history. ... It's the right decision."

Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents GM and nine other automakers, praised the decision.

"A patchwork quilt of inconsistent and competing fuel economy programs at the state level would only have created confusion, inefficiency, and uncertainty for automakers and consumers," he said.

The Clean Air Act gives California special authority to regulate vehicle pollution because the state began such regulations before the federal government. But a federal waiver is required, and if California gets one, then other states can adopt California's standards, too.

California's tailpipe emissions law would have forced automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016.

Twelve other states - Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington - had adopted California's tailpipe standards and the governors of Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Utah had said they also plan to adopt them. The rules were under consideration elsewhere, too.

In denying the waiver request, Johnson argued that a nationwide approach would be better and said it would be provided by a new law raising fuel economy standards that was signed by President Bush in December. California officials argued that California's law would be stronger and act faster.

The EPA document released Friday cites a series of statistics aiming to bolster the claim that California does not have special threats from global warming, including a sea level rise on the California coast equal to or less than elsewhere in the U.S.; temperature rises in California higher than the national average, but is equal to or lower in than some other places in the U.S. including Alaska; and precipitation increases are not qualitatively different from other areas.Associated Press Writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

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