The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Tuesday granted California a waiver to enforce a state greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standard for new motor vehicles, beginning with the current model year. Environmentalists and state officials immediately lauded the much-anticipated move by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (see Daily GPI, April 20).

One long-time environmental activist supporting the waiver called it “a green light for California’s [long-stalled] plan for cleaner cars.”

Saying the decision puts “law and science” on the same first-priority footing, Jackson said she considers this the “appropriate course under the law” in granting the waiver. “This waiver is consistent with the [federal] Clean Air Act as it’s been used for the last 40 years and supports the prerogatives of 13 states and the District of Columbia.”

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called the action “a huge step for our emerging green economy that will create thousands of new jobs.” Schwarzenegger declared that the state’s long battle to reduce pollution from passenger vehicles is “over,” and he predicted a “greener, cleaner future.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley called it a “common-sense approach to protecting the environment and investing in our clean energy economy.” New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said the states now have “the best of both worlds” — validating state leadership, particularly in the West, and demonstrating the new leadership of the Obama administration. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said his state has supported the California effort from its beginning in 2005.

Bernadette Del Chiaro, a clean energy advocate for Environment California, predicted that the EPA waiver will result in California reducing its global warming pollution by 158 million metric tons by 2020, “eliminating the pollution from 30 million cars for a year and saving consumers $36 billion at the pump.”

Del Chiaro said the action was a “cornerstone” of an agreement that Obama announced last month among states, automakers, EPA and the federal Department of Transportation. She has worked on clean car standards in California since 2002. “Passenger vehicles are the second largest source of global warming emissions [after power generation plants],” Del Chiaro said.

Jackson said her action was consistent with the president’s announcement of a “first-ever national policy aimed at both increasing fuel economy and reducing GHG emissions for all cars and trucks sold in the United States.” She said she based her decision on an extensive record of both scientific and technical evidence.

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