WASHINGTON – Gov. Martin O’Malley told a Senate committee Thursday that the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent decision to deny California’s request to raise emission standards was “shameful.”
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works called the EPA on the carpet for rejecting California’s request to lower limits on automobile greenhouse gas emissions.
The EPA determined late last year that allowing California to set a different limit would create a patchwork of rules that would be a poor substitute for an all-encompassing national standard.
In May 2007, O’Malley signed the Maryland Clean Cars Act, which adopted all of California’s stricter emission regulations, including EPA-accepted stricter limits on ozone gases, as well as the rejected greenhouse gas standards.
California’s standards, if begun in 2009 as planned, would have reduced vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2016. Sixteen other states also planned to use the regulations.
“Every reasonable person in the country wants to see us doing more (emission regulation) and not less,” O’Malley said. “We must move forward to address this challenge.”
The EPA, he said, erred in denying California — and by extension, Maryland — the choice of being more stringent in its greenhouse gas standards.
“The longstanding agreement that states should have the freedom to do more, if they should so choose, than the federal government to protect the environment has now been abrogated,” O’Malley said. “It amounts, in essence, to the EPA saying to the states, ‘How dare you make greater progress against climate change than what we’re willing to make in the federal government.'”
O’Malley joined the governors of Pennsylvania and Vermont, the Michigan attorney general and a Republican from California to speak on the EPA’s decision.
But the Democrat-dominated committee spent much of the hearing criticizing and questioning EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, who issued the original decision. Only Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe represented Republicans on the committee Thursday.
“I think your decision today really is an affront to federalism, and an affront to our states,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. “The traditional role of the EPA is to be a leader in protecting our environment, and I think this decision really questions the leadership interest of the EPA in carrying out that historic role.”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., agreed.
“It’s bad enough when the federal government fails to lead, but it’s even worse when the federal government gets in the way of states that are trying to act in the interest of the public in the absence of leadership from the EPA,” Lautenberg said.
But Johnson said that by rejecting California’s request, he was simply following the law. The federal government’s main rule for emissions regulation, the Clean Air Act, says states cannot set their own standards unless the state, among other things, has “compelling and extraordinary conditions” that necessitate individual regulations.
“My job is to make the right decision, not the easy decision,” Johnson said, though the EPA had never before denied such a request.
In the end, O’Malley simply urged the committee to take action.
“The people of Maryland do not understand why, if the technology is there, . . . why on Earth would we not do this before the Chesapeake Bay is irreparably damaged.”