WASHINGTON (AP) – The Bush administration’s top environmental regulator faced off Thursday against Democratic senators who took turns denouncing him for blocking tailpipe emission cuts in California and more than a dozen other states.

EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson defended his decision and didn’t budge as he was accused of doing the bidding of the White House and the auto industry.

It was his first Capitol Hill appearance since denying a federal waiver last month that would have allowed California to implement a law slashing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

Other states could then have followed suit and 12, including Maine,were ready to do so, with others making preparations.

“I evaluated all the data, I made the decision, it’s the right decision,” Johnson said. “I was not directed by anyone to make the decision.

“I am bound by the criteria in the Clean Air Act, not people’s opinions,” he said, contending California did not meet all those criteria.

Because global warming is an international phenomenon not unique to California, the state doesn’t need its own standards to meet “compelling and extraordinary conditions” as set out in the law, Johnson said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the committee chair, led committee Democrats in assailing Johnson’s conclusion.

“You’re going against your own agency’s mission and you’re fulfilling the mission of some special interests,” she chided him.

Boxer had released excerpts from Environmental Protection Agency documents on Wednesday showing that EPA officials had advised Johnson that California did have the “compelling and extraordinary conditions” required under law, because of its vulnerability to environmental impacts of global warming.

The internal documents also showed that EPA officials had concluded that the agency would likely lose in court if sued over denying the waiver. California and other states did in fact sue earlier this month.

Johnson refused to get drawn in about those documents, insisting repeatedly that he “considered a wide range of options” before making his decision.

The lone Republican senator to attend the hearing, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, was the only one to come to the administrator’s defense. Inhofe dismissed the proceedings as “more theater” and called California’s law a “job killer” for the auto industry.

California’s first-in-the-nation tailpipe rules would force automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016, with reductions starting with the 2009 model year.

Twelve other states have already adopted those rules – Maine, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington – with others preparing to do so.

Boxer took testimony Thursday from governors of three states that have adopted the rules, Democrats Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Martin O’Malley of Maryland, and Republican Jim Douglas of Vermont. Providing the opposing viewpoint was Michigan’s attorney general, Republican Mike Cox. Cox complained Michigan’s auto industry is being singled out while other industries, like Pennsylvania’s coal plants, aren’t being regulated for greenhouse gases – something Rendell disputed.

Johnson contends that it’s better to have a national standard for emissions rather than different standards for different states. He said Congress’ newly passed fuel efficiency law – signed by President Bush last month on the same day California’s waiver was denied – provides such a national standard.

California officials argue that their law is much stronger and takes effect much faster than the new federal rules.

Johnson was also grilled on a separate-but-related issue: When EPA will issue plans for curbing greenhouse gases from new automobiles nationally, something Bush announced last year after the Supreme Court ruled that EPA had the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Johnson said EPA must first make a determination about whether greenhouse gases pose a danger to public health or the environment; if the answer is yes regulations would follow.

Scientists at EPA determined last month that greenhouse gas emissions are a threat to the public welfare, government officials familiar with the decision said Thursday. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, confirmed the existence of the so-called endangerment finding first reported in the Los Angeles Times on Thursday.

But EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said the agency has restarted its deliberations in light of the new federal fuel-efficiency law. He said there is no endangerment finding, nor any final decision as to when – or if – EPA will issue regulations on greenhouse gases from vehicles.



Associated Press writer Rita Beamish in San Mateo, Calif., contributed to this report.

AP-ES-01-24-08 1905EST


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