updated 4/26/2007 12:37:52 PM ET 2007-04-26T16:37:52

The Environmental Protection Agency has six months to act on the California's request to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, or else face legal action, the governor's administration warns.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he called EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson on Wednesday and told him his agency was moving too slowly on California's 2005 request for a waiver to the federal Clean Air Act. The waiver, if granted by the EPA, would allow California to more aggressively regulate greenhouse gases as air pollutants.

The administration also sent a letter to the federal agency on the same day announcing the intent to sue, a procedural step that is required six months before a lawsuit would be filed, Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said.

Responding to Schwarzenegger's letter, EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood said the agency was moving forward with California's request. She said a final decision will be made at the end of a public comment period for the request that ends June 15.

The EPA had delayed action because the agency maintained it did not have the authority to regulate the gases that contribute to global warming. However, the state's request was revived earlier this month when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the EPA does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, a position that had long been rejected by the Bush administration.

'Unreasonable delay'
Schwarzenegger is demanding that the EPA act on California's waiver request within 180 days.

"Failure to take action by the end of October would mean that more than 22 months have passed with no decision," Schwarzenegger wrote in the letter. "This is clearly an unreasonable delay."

On Tuesday, Johnson told senators that he had begun the formal process to act on the request, but he refused to set a timetable specifying when the agency would issue a decision.

"We will move expeditiously, but we are going to be moving responsibly," Johnson told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The 5-4 Supreme Court decision did not require the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. But it does say the agency must show that carbon dioxide emissions are not a danger to public health if it chooses not regulate them under the Clean Air Act.

The committee's chairwoman, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said she expected the EPA to make a decision by the middle of the summer and would call agency officials back before her panel after the comment period had closed.

California's waiver is needed for the state to implement a 2002 state law that would require automakers to reduce emissions by 25 percent from cars and light trucks and 18 percent from sport utility vehicles starting with the 2009 model year.

Other states watching
The waiver also carries implications for at least 10 other states that have adopted California's standard. Federal law allows states to choose between the federal and the California rules.

The auto regulations are a major part of California's strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The state is the world's 12th largest producer of the emissions blamed for warming the earth and contributing to global climate change.

A separate 2006 state law requires emissions to be reduced 25 percent by 2020. That law requires California to reduce emissions by an estimated 174 million metric tons.

The auto regulations would account for about 17 percent of the state's target, according to the California Air Resources Board. If the EPA rejects the auto-emission waiver, California regulators would have to rethink how the state could meet its goals.

Schwarzenegger met with Johnson earlier this month to press him on the waiver request but left Washington without a commitment. The governor last year sent two letters to President Bush seeking action.

"It looks like the EPA is trying to drown the waiver process," said Karen Douglas, who directs climate change issues in California for Environmental Defense, a national environmental group. "They've offered to hold hearings, but what we really want to see from EPA is fast action dealing with global warming pollution."

In addition to the waiver, the 2002 auto regulations are the subject of lawsuits in California and Vermont. Automakers have sued the states, saying the emission standards are akin to fuel economy standards, which can be set only by the federal government.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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