updated 3/5/2009 4:45:48 PM ET 2009-03-05T21:45:48

The head of California's air pollution agency urged federal regulators on Thursday to reverse a Bush-era decision that blocks the state from setting its own limits on greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.

Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, told a packed Environmental Protection Agency hearing just outside Washington that if the state is unable to control the gases blamed for global warming from cars and trucks, its other air pollution problems will get worse.

Nichols was joined by environmental groups and officials from six other states in pressing the EPA to reverse it's March 2008 ruling denying California the right to control heat-trapping gases from vehicle exhaust. President Barack Obama has ordered the agency to reconsider the decision, and the hearing Thursday was part of that process.

Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia want to adopt California's standards, which would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and trucks by 2016.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., however, said the EPA should develop national standards to limit greenhouse gases emissions in conjunction with efforts already under way at the Transportation Department to improve fuel economy.

Levin, making a rare appearance at an agency hearing, said that while California has been granted permission in the past to set its own standards to control problems like smog, global warming "is a totally different matter."

"The threat of greenhouse gas emissions is not unique to any state," said Levin. "All of our states have varying problems that result from this menace to our planet."

Representatives of the auto industry also pushed for a single, national standard. They argued that a patchwork of regulations will tax an industry already in dire economic straits and do little to address global warming.

"As long as the federal government is taking unified aggressive action, various state requirements would pose immense costs and provide little environmental benefit," said Mike Stanton, president of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers.

Carol Browner, the White House coordinator for energy and climate change, has indicated that the Obama administration is considering a national emissions standard.

A 2007 Supreme Court decision said the EPA had the authority to control greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles using the Clean Air Act.

Environmentalists at Thursday's hearing said the EPA should still allow California to set its own standard first and grant it a waiver. California's reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would start this year, while the development of a new national program would take longer.

"The pathway to get there starts with the California waiver," said David Doniger, the climate policy director for the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council.

There are currently no federal greenhouse gas standards for cars and trucks, but an increase in fuel economy required by the 2007 energy law would result in fewer emissions.

California officials and scientists argued Thursday at the EPA panel that they needed to make their own reductions because in-state emissions of carbon dioxide and rising temperatures caused by global warming were making the state's soot and smog problems worse.

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


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