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Local law clinic files intent to sue EPA.

Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

The Western Environmental Law Center in Eugene filed notice Tuesday that it will sue the Environmental Protection Agency if it doesn't clear the way for Oregon's plan to reduce auto emissions that cause global warming.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski and other Western governors are demanding immediate action from the EPA.

"Everything is held up now by the Bush administration's intransigence," said Eugene attorney Dan Galpern, who's preparing the lawsuit. "And they're not even bothering to issue a negative decision (on proposed standards). They're just sitting on it. It's very frustrating."

At issue is an Environmental Protection Agency waiver that California needs in order to put its stringent tailpipe standards for cars and light trucks into effect for the 2009 model year.

The Clean Air Act allows California to adopt stricter air standards than federal law allows. Other states can then follow California, or stick with federal dictates.

The rub: The EPA must bless California's proposed standard with a waiver, a document the agency has routinely issued to California over the past three decades. This time, the state has waited nearly two years for an answer on its waiver request from the EPA.

"We can't move forward if California can't move forward and California can't move forward without the waiver, so it's a big deal," said David Van't Hof, Kulongoski's policy adviser on sustainability. "We're very frustrated with it."

But, in the EPA's defense, the agency received 100,000 comments about the proposed tailpipe standards and thousands of pages of technical documents, said Mark MacIntyre, EPA Region 10 spokesman.

EPA Administrator Steve Johnson has committed to making a decision by the end of the year, MacIntyre said.

But if the decision comes that late, Galpern said, it could delay the application of the standards to the 2010 automotive models - or later. And the problem of global warming is more urgent than that, he said.

Oregon Wild, formerly the Oregon Natural Resources Council, is one of nine environmental groups from Washington, Oregon and California signing onto Galpern's suit.

For 30 years, Oregon Wild has concerned itself with preserving old growth, clean water and salmon runs, said Steve Pedery, the group's conservation director.

But this year, scientists are documenting the shrinking snow pack on Mount Hood, shifts in the range of Oregon wildlife and the increasing damage from fire and insects to the state's forests.

"It's reaching a point where we can't ignore this issue," Pedery said.

California's tailpipe emission standards are meant to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one-third by 2016.

"In Oregon - and most of the Western states - transportation emissions make up as much greenhouse gas emissions as the electric and industrial sectors," Van't Hof said. "It's a huge piece of the puzzle to be addressed."

Although a dozen states are prepared to adopt California's standards, the effort has been blocked by automaker pressure on the EPA, said U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

"They have inordinate clout politically," DeFazio said. "They have very powerful allies both in the Bush administration, and unfortunately, a few powerful (Michigan) Democrats."

MacIntyre, the EPA spokesman, said he hasn't seen evidence of political pressure slowing the agency's decision-making. "I have no reason to believe that's true," he said.

Earlier this month, a federal judge in Vermont bolstered states that want the strict tailpipe standards in a ruling that said nothing in federal law prevents states from moving ahead.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has warned the EPA that he may sue as early as October. Oregon hasn't decided whether to join in with a potential California suit, Van't Hof said. "We're certainly going to be supportive of California one way or the other."

And the Eugene-based Western Environmental Law Center will be waiting with a planned filing on behalf of the environmental groups that eventually could be consolidated with a multistate suit, Galpern said. On the other hand, "If EPA continues to delay and California doesn't go ahead and sue by 2008, we're going to go ahead and sue," he said.

The Western Environmental Law Center is a nonprofit agency that employs 10 attorneys in four states. It began 14 years ago as a law clinic at the University of Oregon.

In recent weeks Kulongoski and other governors sent letters to the major U.S. automakers asking them to stop the litigation and turn their efforts to making low-emissions autos.

The automakers have argued in a succession of lawsuits that the California tailpipe standards would limit consumer choice, create hardship for the industry and cause a loss of jobs. They also said cars would get smaller and lighter and would be less safe.

But DeFazio said the industry is out of tune with what car buyers want - clean, fuel efficient cars.

"It's sad. The American workers are working their hearts out and they're being sold down the river by short-sighted execs who are just looking to their next bonus and don't care whether the company's there long term," DeFazio said.

"Any smart auto exec would see the handwriting on the wall. Maybe they can delay the day of decision, but it's going to happen," he said.


1970: Congress passes the Clean Air Act, giving the federal government authority over air pollution - but leaving in place California's historical ability to adopt stricter standards, and allowing other states to choose whether to follow California or the federal rules.

2002: The California Legislature passes a law requiring cars sold in the state, beginning with 2009 models, to meet tough tailpipe emissions standards meant to reduce carbon dioxide emission by 30 percent. But the state needs a routine waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency to proceed.

2005: Oregon and Washington follow California and adopt the tougher emission standards.

2005: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asks the EPA for the waiver.

April 2007: The U.S. Supreme Court rejects the Bush administration's claim that the EPA lacks authority to regulate greenhouse emissions.

Sept. 12, 2007: A federal judge rejects an auto industry challenge to Vermont's adoption of the California standards.

Sept. 17, 2007: A federal judge in San Francisco dismisses a state of California case that contended that major car companies produce more than one fifth of human-generated carbon dioxide emissions in the United States.

Sept. 18: Western Environmental Law Center in Eugene files a notice of intent to sue the EPA in an attempt to force the agency to rule on California's waiver request.

Oct. 22: A federal judge in Fresno is scheduled to hear arguments from automakers in a case similar to the one that a Vermont judge dismissed in September.

Oct. 25: This is the date that Schwarzenegger has said he will sue the EPA if it doesn't rule on California's request for a waiver.

February 2009: The 180-day legal notice period expires, and the Western Environmental Law Center is free to sue the EPA in federal court.
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Title Annotation:Environment; Environmentalists back an effort to press the agency to make way for stricter emissions
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 19, 2007
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