updated 1/22/2009 11:00:06 AM ET 2009-01-22T16:00:06

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't waiting to press the Obama administration on one of California's top priorities — regulating greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.

The Republican governor sent a letter to the new Democratic president on Wednesday, asking him to give California and other states permission to implement tough tailpipe-emission standards.

"Your administration has a unique opportunity to both support the pioneering leadership of these states and move America toward global leadership on addressing climate change," Schwarzenegger wrote.

He wants the Environmental Protection Agency to reverse a 2007 conclusion by the Bush administration that states do not have authority to impose greenhouse gas standards for new cars, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. The Bush administration argued that such goals can be met only by regulating fuel-efficiency standards, which falls under the authority of the federal government.

Obama has vowed to revisit the decision, a promise echoed last week by his nominee for EPA administrator. Lisa Jackson awaits Senate confirmation.

The EPA referred a call Wednesday to Obama's transition team, which declined comment.

It's unclear how long it might take the new administration to review the matter. In a separate letter to Jackson, California's top air pollution official said the agency could fast-track a public rule-making process that often can take up to a year.

Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols wrote that the EPA already has an "ample record" to help it reconsider the Bush administration decision.

California is seeking a waiver from the federal Clean Air Act that would allow it to impose stiffer air pollution standards than the federal government. It first asked for a waiver in 2005 to implement a 2002 state law intended to cut vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions.

The law, which was supposed to take effect this year, requires automakers to cut emissions by nearly a third by 2016. Thirteen other states have passed similar laws, while three more are considering California's standards, according to the California air board. Federal law allows states to choose between federal and California clean-air rules.

The Bush administration's ruling marked the first time the EPA fully denied California a waiver under the Clean Air Act since Congress gave the state the right to obtain such waivers in 1967.

Democrats in Congress accused the administration of political meddling after reports indicated staff scientists at the EPA supported giving California a waiver.

The auto regulations are a key part of California's strategy to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. The state is the world's 12th largest producer of the emissions, which are blamed for contributing to global climate change.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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