Kia Franklin

States Urge Environmental Protection Agency to Actually Protect Environment

California is pressing on in its challenge against the EPA for turning down its proposed emissions rules, adopted by 12 other states and supported by three more as well. ( NYT, BBC) The proposed standards would provide tighter protections to the public against the harmful effects of vehicle emissions on the environment, an issue screaming in its relevancy these days.

From the New York Times:

"An analysis released by state air regulators showed their 2004 tailpipe regulation would be faster and tougher than the federal fuel economy rules... By 2016, California's standard would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that vehicles produce by 45.4 million metric tons a year in California and the 12 other states that have already adopted the rules. That's nearly double the 23.4 million metric tons the report forecast would be cut under the federal fuel-efficiency standards, according to the analysis, which was based on EPA air pollution modeling."

But the EPA said "no thanks" to this proposal, preferring its apparently looser standards to California's plan. This is the EPA's "first time denying California a waiver under the Clean Air Act since Congress gave the state the right to obtain such waivers in 1967," according to the NYT.

The EPA's decision has been described as a victory for the auto industry. Automakers opposed the California rules as too strict, saying they would "reduce their selection of vehicles and raise prices in states that adopted California's standards." So in other words, it's better to have a ton of cheaper cars to choose from, regardless of how badly they're polluting the air we breathe.

Now if that ain't like driving off a cliff in a brand new beemer, I don't know what is...

For formality's sake, here are some (I hope, not too annoyingly obvious) thoughts on why this lawsuit a) is important and b) further demonstrates the importance of our civil justice system as a means for checking corporate/government cronyism and the bad policies that are produced as a result:

Tort "reformers" argue that if aggrieved individuals and groups want things to change, they should change the rules of the game through legislation. First they say, "So sue me!" But if they actually get sued, they insist that the issue is better suited for the legislature than the courtroom. They paint this picture of whiney, attention-seeking plaintiffs making an overblown fuss about corporations letting off a wee bit too much smoke for their overly sensitive, air-greedy little lungs. (Geez, people can get so dramatic about their ability to breathe.)

But here's what's interesting in this scenario: there are clearly no whine-bags here. Here we have a bi-partisan effort, which legitimately went through the legislative process and was signed by the Governor. We have standards that have the support of at least 15 other states. Yet this effort was obstructed by the government agency charged with protecting our environment, although in the past the EPA has granted California's waivers to impose stricter environmental standards.

This situation demonstrates clear as day how important it is to have a strong civil court system dedicated to administering justice to the public. In addition to the legislative process, we need our civil justice system as a means of providing public oversight of the federal government when its decisions conflict with the public's interest and/or with our cherished democratic process.

According to the NYT, Schwarzenegger said that EPA officials ''are ignoring the will of millions of people who want their government to take action in the fight against global warming.'' This lawsuit is California's way of saying "We refuse to lose something we need and treasure--a right to a healthier environment--without a good fight." Several other states are expected to join California in its claim.

Well I say sue on, Cali. Your day in court is ours, too.

Kia Franklin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 11:47 AM, Jan 03, 2008 in EPA | In the News | Under-regulation
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