Hardy Myers (D)
SALEM, Ore. (Legal Newsline)-The Bush administration has "refused to accept the reality" that greenhouse gas emissions are harming the environment, Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers told Legal Newsline.
Myers said for that reason a group of five states, including Oregon, is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the federal Clean Air Act to force the U.S. government to set emissions standards for planes, ships and off-road vehicles.
"I share the view that global warming is a very, very serious threat, and the unmistakable pattern that's emerged under this administration is a refusal by the federal government to recognize that," Myers said in a lengthy interview this week.
The legal action is an effort to force the federal government "to accept the reality of global warming and to act on it within the authority it has been given by Congress," added Myers, a longtime attorney general and former state lawmaker.
In addition to not setting emissions standards for non-highway vehicles, the White House has also declined to set emissions standards for petroleum refineries and power plants, which nationally are the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses.
Myers, a Democrat, said he is hopeful that the next U.S. president will address the issue of global climate change more aggressively than the Bush White House has over the last eight years.
He noted that Republican presidential nominee Arizona Sen. John McCain and Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois have both pledged to use federal authority to try to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.
"But of course President George Bush in 2000 pledged to combat greenhouse gas emissions," Myers said. "My sense is there is a fairly widespread perception that perhaps under either of the two candidates there would be a change in direction, but we'll have to see."
While lawsuits brought by states have not resulted in the sought-after regulations the complaints have at least cleared up some key legal issues, the attorney general said.
The EPA had argued in a case brought by the state of Massachusetts in 2007 that greenhouse gasses were not an air pollutant subject to potential control under the U.S. Clean Air Act.
Ultimately, the case resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court decision to the contrary. The nation's highest court also ruled that the EPA could not refuse to exercise its authority over greenhouse gas emissions based on its policy preferences.
"The legal stage has been set for the EPA to move forward if the political bridle on it is removed by the new administration," Myers said.
Earlier this year, attorneys general from 17 states, the cities of New York and Baltimore, the District of Columbia, and 13 environmental groups asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington to order the EPA to respond to the Massachusetts ruling.
Myers said while individual states are ready to enforce emissions standards, the federal government is standing in their way.
California, for instance, has long-sought a waver so it may implement its state highway vehicles emissions standards.
The proposed California emissions standard calls for a 30 percent cut in tailpipe emissions by 2016. Oregon enacted an identical law, but its enforcement is on hold pending approval of California's waiver.
Under the Clean Air Act, if that waver is granted other states may adopt the California standards and enforce them. "That waver for California is the gateway to action by other states," Myers said.
In denying the waver late last year, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said there needs to be a national approach to cutting tailpipe emissions, so it would not be well to allow individual states to set emissions standards.
Other critics say restricting greenhouse gas emissions could hurt the economy and cost Americans jobs.
In California, for example, billionaire developer Alex Spanos is bankrolling a local petition drive to block a recent agreement the city of Stockton reached with Attorney General Jerry Brown over its general plan, which calls for emissions reductions on future building projects.
Meanwhile, proponents of the California plan have pointed to a study released last month that suggests a 30 percent emissions reduction would result in a net household savings of $400 to $500 a year and a $4 billion gain in the total annual output of goods and services in the Golden State.
"The facts are in. These reports support the conclusion that guiding California toward a clean energy future with reduced dependence on fossil fuels will grow our economy, improve public health, protect the environment and create a more secure future built on clean and sustainable technologies," said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the
California Air Resources Board, which prepared the study.
Asked why the Bush administration might be resisting setting emissions standards, Myers said it is purely political.
The White House, he said, has had an "unswerving refusal to act" on global climate change.
"There are players within the administration who have simply refused to accept the reality of global warming," Myers said. "I think the more widespread reason is there is an unwillingness to undertake or to create the costs of attempting to deal with the realities of greenhouse gases."
From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at firstname.lastname@example.org.