Clean air put on hold in Rhode Island by EPA action

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Transportation is the largest and fastest growing source of global warming pollution in Rhode Island. To tackle global warming, Rhode Island must tackle the transportation problem by reducing vehicle miles traveled – now in excess of 20 million miles a day – and requiring cleaner cars that pollute less than those that are on the road today.
With the latter goal in mind, Rhode Island adopted global warming standards for new cars and trucks in December 2005. The so-called Clean Cars Program would have applied to cars built beginning in model year January 2009, and it would have achieved a 30-percent reduction in global warming pollution from new cars and trucks by 2016.
However, in December 2007, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Stephen Johnson, announced his intention to kill the global warming standards. At the behest of the auto industry, Johnson denied California, and by extension all other states, including Rhode Island, a waiver to go beyond weaker federal pollution standards for new cars and trucks.
In backing the auto industry and deciding to try and kill the Clean Cars Program, the EPA chose to ignore the science of global warming, shirk their legal duty to regulate global warming, and to violate the Clean Air Act. To make matters worse, this decision was made over the objections of the legal and technical staff of the EPA.
In the past year, federal judges in California and Vermont – as well as the U.S. Supreme Court – have rejected automakers’ claims about the Clean Cars Program and protected the rights of states to adopt the Clean Cars Program. In addition, another case is pending in U.S. District Court in Providence where Judge Ernest C. Torres will hopefully come to the same conclusion.
For Rhode Island, the decision by the EPA will severely hamstring our state’s ability to take action to reduce the largest and fastest growing source of global warming pollution. While Rhode Island can and should continue to pursue other transportation strategies, such as expanding commuter rail, hiring enough bus drivers to meet demand, putting enough buses on the road and encouraging smart growth patterns, it is a travesty that the fastest and cheapest option to reduce global warming pollution from the transportation sector has been taken off the table by the federal agency that was created to protect our environment.
In recent weeks, Rhode Island – under the leadership of Attorney General Patrick Lynch – has joined 15 other states to intervene in support of a petition filed by California for judicial review of the Clean Cars Program waiver denial by the federal government. Lynch is also defending Rhode Island’s clean-car regulations in federal court before Judge Torres. While this is an encouraging development because it could save the program, it still means at best a delay in putting cleaner cars on the road while the petition works its way through the courts.
In the meantime, the public and the planet will suffer because the federal government has decided to back the auto industry and stand in the way of Rhode Island and other states taking action to address global warming. •
Matt Auten is the advocate for Environment Rhode Island, a citizen-based environmental advocacy organization that is an affiliate of an affiliate of Environment America. To learn more, visit environmentrhodeisland.org.

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