Congressional critics launched an offensive against the Bush administration Thursday for denying California and other states the right to adopt strict curbs on greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said she would consider issuing a subpoena for documents that might show White House interference in the Dec. 19 decision to deny California a waiver to enact its own rules under the Clean Air Act.
"This outrageous decision . . . is completely contrary to the law and science," Boxer said in a briefing with state officials at Los Angeles City Hall. She held up an empty cardboard box as a symbol of the Environmental Protection Agency's refusal so far to provide the hefty technical and legal backup that normally accompanies air pollution waiver decisions and are usually published in the Federal Register.
The EPA's decision was in part based on the assertion that global warming, caused by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, is a worldwide problem rather than a California issue, and therefore requires a national, rather than a state-led, solution. EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson said an energy bill signed by President Bush last month would adequately control greenhouse gas emissions by requiring a 35-mph fleet-wide fuel economy average by 2020.
But the air board has calculated that more greenhouse gas would be emitted under the federal plan than under California's blueprint.
California already has the nation's most severe smog and soot. And scientists have found that by warming the air and increasing humidity, carbon dioxide emissions increase concentrations of ozone and fine particulates, which are linked to heart attacks, asthma and other diseases. A Stanford University study released last week calculated that California would have several hundred additional deaths each year due to the effects of global warming.
Using a computer model to simulate global pollution changes and factoring in the health effects confirmed by previous studies, Mark Jacobson, a Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering, concluded that about 21,600 people worldwide could die each year for each degree Celsius of temperature increase.
"With six of the 10 most polluted cities in the nation being in California," Jacobson said, "that alone creates a special circumstance for the state."
California's landmark 2002 law requires new automakers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle tailpipes by 30% by 2016. Under the Clean Air Act, the state is allowed to issue its own rules, because it had a pollution program before the act was passed.
States may choose to follow the federal model or California's rules, but only if the EPA issues a waiver to California. The agency has done so in more than 50 other cases over three decades, allowing California to pioneer such technology as catalytic converters.
California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, who sued the EPA last week in an effort to overturn the decision, said the agency was delaying the issuing of legal and technical documents to stall court action.
"Subpoena these guys," he urged Boxer. "Send the marshals out. Get them to tell us under oath. They are not going to get away with this. Sooner or later, we are going to uncover real corruption . . . that is dangerous to California and to the whole world."
Brown said that the Bush administration may be able to delay court action a year, until the president's term is over, but that Congress may be able to speed the process.
"What you have is a bunch of scofflaws in the White House," he said. "This fellow Johnson is becoming a stooge in a really pathetic drama that hopefully will not play out much longer."
Johnson is scheduled to testify before the Senate committee in Washington on Jan. 24. An EPA spokesman said, "The official decision documents are being prepared, and they will be released soon."
Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the state Air Resources Board, said that if the court did not act quickly, the board would outline other options for requiring greenhouse gas cutbacks from automobiles, including fees and incentives.
She said the California standards, which are scheduled to begin to take effect in 2009, could be met by auto companies with existing technology. So far, she said, 12 states have chosen to adopt California's standards, pending a waiver approval. Others are in the process of doing so. If all 50 states adopted California's law, it would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions by 1.4 gigatons, about twice what the federal standards would achieve by then, Nichols said.
The outcome of the tailpipe issue may be determined by the next administration, said Brown, who added that he had written the presidential candidates to ask their positions on the waiver. All the Democrats support California's position, but only one Republican, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), answered Brown's letter in the affirmative.
Testifying Thursday, Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, urged Californians to focus on the Feb. 5 primary and demand that all candidates endorse the waiver.
Although polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support strong measures to curb global warming, and 150 New Hampshire town halls approved resolutions urging candidates to address global warming, the issue has been largely dormant in the presidential campaign, Pope said.
He blamed the news media, citing a study issued last week by the nonprofit League of Conservation Voters, which reviewed 140 interviews and debates of the presidential candidates.
Of 2,484 questions asked by the top five political reporters on television, the study found, only three mentioned global warming.
Times staff writer Marla Cone contributed to this report.