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Bush Administration Joins Effort to Kill Southland Agency’s Anti-Pollution Rule

Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of Justice has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn regulations established by Southern California’s smog-fighting agency to curb pollution from taxis, buses, trash trucks and other fleet vehicles.

The government contended in a friend of the court brief filed Friday that the rules are at odds with the federal Clean Air Act because the authority to make such rules is limited to the federal government.

The regulations were adopted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District in 2000 and 2001. They require public and private operators of transit buses, school buses, trash trucks, street sweepers, heavy-duty utility trucks, airport shuttles and taxis to buy clean-fuel models when they replace or add to fleets of 15 vehicles or more.

AQMD is the air pollution control agency for Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

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The Western States Petroleum Assn., a trade group representing approximately 30 petroleum companies, and the Engine Manufacturers Assn. filed suit in 2001, arguing that AQMD regulations cannot override the Clean Air Act. Spokesmen for both associations were unavailable Saturday, but in court documents, the organizations have said that the Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency exclusive authority to regulate motor vehicle emissions.

A spokesman for AQMD said Saturday that the rules are not emissions standards but simply require fleet operators to choose among clean-air vehicles already on the market.

A spokesman, Sam Atwood, said the agency is not requiring Detroit manufacturers “to make an engine that meets a certain level of oxide and nitrogen emissions per mile.”

“We are saying to fleet operators, when you are purchasing a new vehicle or adding to your fleet, you need to buy a clean-air vehicle that’s already available,” he said.

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The trade groups lost their case before the U.S. District Court and appealed last year to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which also upheld the AQMD rules. The Supreme Court agreed to take the case in June.

The Department of Justice’s brief, submitted by U.S. Solicitor Gen. Theodore B. Olson, supports reversal of the lower courts’ decisions. The government contends that the Clean Air Act preempts the regional air quality district’s rules because those rules are related to emissions standards. It also states that neither California nor AQMD has requested a waiver that would permit the state to adopt such controls.

A message left with the Department of Justice’s press office for comment on Saturday drew no response.

Atwood charged that the brief represents the third time in a month that the Bush administration has tried to thwart clean-air efforts in Southern California. Earlier this month, the EPA refused to commit to any specific emission reduction measures in its 2003 air quality management plan. Last week, the government revised Clean Air Act rules, allowing power plants and factories to upgrade without adopting the most up-to-date pollution equipment.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the clean-fleet suit in December and to make a decision about mid-year.


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