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California Urges EPA To Approve Its Greenhouse Gas Rule

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ At least 11 states are ready to implement standards crafted by California that would lower the emissions of greenhouse gases from cars, sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.

But first they need permission from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

California officials hoped to make their case Tuesday to get a waiver from federal rules and win approval for regulations that would force the auto industry to change how it makes cars.

``The California process is well advanced and it's the most immediate, viable pathway to start controlling greenhouse gases,'' California Attorney General Jerry Brown told The Associated Press. ``California has a plan in place. We're ready to go.''

That plan is a 2002 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.

Air pollution standards typically are set by the federal government. But because California began setting vehicle emissions standards before the federal government, the state is allowed under the Clean Air Act of 1970 to set its own standards.

Other states can then choose to follow either the federal or California standards.

Officials from eight other states _ including attorneys general from New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut _ were scheduled to testify in support of California's request for a waiver from the federal rules.

``This is a states' rights issue,'' said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. ``California is a laboratory for innovation.''

EPA officials have declined to say how they will rule. Tuesday's hearing came after more than a year of inaction since the state submitted its petition in 2005.

Auto manufacturers have sued California and Vermont in an attempt to block the regulation, arguing that emissions standards are de-facto fuel economy standards which can only be set by the federal government.

Charles Territo, a spokesman with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in Washington, D.C., said the industry will ask the EPA to deny California's request in favor of a national program to curb greenhouse gases.

``Manufacturers believe there needs to be a national, federal and multi-sector approach to regulating greenhouse gases,'' Territo said.

Territo said the industry also plans to challenge California's legal standing, saying the state has not met certain legal criteria for a waiver under the federal Clean Air Act. He declined to offer specifics.

Since the inception of the act, the EPA approved 90 types of waivers for California and failed to act on five of its requests, according to California EPA secretary Linda Adams.

``We are on very strong legal ground, and if they plan to deny our waiver they are going to have to really look around for a reason,'' Adams said in a conference call with reporters Monday.

Schwarzenegger last month said the state will sue if the EPA does not act on the state's request by October 25.

The auto regulations are a key part of California's overall strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists blame for the Earth's warming temperature over the last three decades. The state is the world's 12th largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, 40 percent of which come from transportation sources.

The state last year embarked on an effort to reduce its emissions by 25 percent by 2020. A 2006 law relies on the auto regulations to accomplish 17 percent of the overall target.

President Bush last week signed an executive order giving federal agencies until the end of 2008 to continue studying the threat of greenhouse gas emissions and what to do about them. Critics fear the directive could undermine state efforts.

In an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Monday, Schwarzenegger and Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Bush's directive ``sounds like more of the same inaction and denial.''
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