Cali Air Regulators Seek Emissions Waiver, Again

A letter sent today by California air pollution controllers to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson could mark the beginning of the end of federal interference with the state’s push to enforce tighter tailpipe emissions standards. Signed by Air Resources Board (ARB) chairman Mary Nichols, the letter asks the newly appointed Jackson to reconsider the agency’s March 2008 denial of a waiver granting California authority to curb greenhouse gas emissions by way of vehicle standards. (You can download the full letter here.)

EPA, under the former administration, ruled that the Clean Air Act — which gives California power to create its own vehicle emission standards, and other states the option to adopt either federal or California standards — limits California to restricting pollutants with local and regional impacts. In other words, no global warming funny business.

In her confirmation hearing, Jackson vowed to put science first — and this may be her first test. As the New York Times reports, Jackson evaded Senators questions about whether she would immediately approve the California waiver, pledging only a speedy review of the issue.

If Jackson’s EPA gives the nod, California and 16 other states would begin enforcing the standards beginning with 2009 model-year vehicles. Of course, this could present some challenges for automakers that have already entered production. But Nichols argues that because all manufacturers’ fleets would be within average greenhouse gas emission limits for 2009, the EPA should go ahead and grant the waiver and let automakers start worrying about compliance for 2010.

“We feel strongly that under its new leadership, EPA will recognize that the decision made by the former administrator to deny California the waiver to enforce our clean car law was flawed, factually and legally, in fundamental ways,” Nichols said in a release this afternoon. Mr. President and appointees: Your move.