WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency took a major step toward tougher reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks Tuesday by giving California the green light to impose new requirements that could become the national model for combating tailpipe pollution linked to global warming.
The EPA granted California's long-standing request — denied by the Bush administration — for a waiver to allow it to pursue more stringent air pollution rules than required by the federal government.
It cleared the way to implement immediately a 2002 state pollution law requiring new cars to increase their fuel economy 40 percent by 2016.
State regulations to implement the law have been in limbo for five years because the Bush administration refused to provide a waiver required by the federal Clean Air Act. Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia have said they want to impose the same requirements as California once the EPA gave the go-ahead.
"This decision puts the law and science first," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement, suggesting that Stephen Johnson, her predecessor at EPA, had ignored historic and traditional legal interpretations on how the Clean Air Act should address the issue when he denied the waiver in March 2008.
"After being asleep at the wheel … the federal government has finally stepped up," said California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, noting the state first requested the waiver in December 2005.
The California regulation requires automakers to increase the fuel economy of cars and trucks sold in the state by 40 percent to an average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. Improved auto fuel efficiency results in less carbon dioxide being emitted from vehicle tailpipes because less fuel is burned for every mile traveled.
The EPA decision also is viewed as setting the stage for tougher national vehicle fuel economy requirements promised by President Barack Obama in May when he announced an agreement to push through federal standards at least as stringent as those being enacted in California.