Senate Bill Would Allow Vermont to Enforce Strengthened Auto Emission Rules

WASHINGTON, January 24 - A bill to be introduced in the Senate today would override an Environmental Protection Agency ruling and let Vermont and other states enforce tougher vehicle emission rules to curb global warming.

Cosponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the bill by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) was being fine tuned on the same day EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson was summoned before a Senate panel she chairs to explain why he shunned the advice of EPA experts and blocked California, Vermont and other states from enforcing their own emission standards.

Sanders, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, told the EPA administrator: "If you can't do the right thing, at least get out of the way of California, Vermont and other states. If we do not move aggressively, this planet is in danger."

Leahy said, "The Bush Administration has been AWOL or worse on air quality issues, and now they even want to undermine states like California and Vermont that are trying to pick up the slack. They won't lead and they won't follow, so this bill would force them at least to get out of the way and stop obstructing states like ours that are trying to lead on clean air policy."

Questioned by Sanders during the sometimes contentions hearing, the EPA administrator hedged on whether global warming is a major crisis. "I don't know what you mean by major crisis," Johnson responded. The usual definition would be fine, Sanders said. Johnson would only say the issue was "serious." The EPA's decision to deny the California waiver would make sense, Sanders explained to the administrator, if, as Sanders believes, the Bush administration did not consider global warming a crisis. "Your responses tell us why the entire world wonders what is happening in the United States on this issue," the senator concluded.

At the same hearing, Vermont Governor James Douglas testified on the potential impact of global warming on Vermont's ski industry, maple production and other sectors of the economy. Douglas said "global warming could threaten our way of life and we have an obligation to do all we can to protect our environment for future generations."

In the House, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) rallied 89 members of Congress in September to urge the EPA to let California adopt stricter standards. He also led a successful effort to block a proposal before the House Energy and Commerce Committee that would have prohibited states from adopting auto emission standards tougher than those imposed by the federal government.

The California rules that Vermont and other states want to adopt would require automakers to average 43.7 mpg by 2016 for passenger cars and some small SUVs and 26.6 mpg for larger light trucks.

To watch Sanders' opening statement, click here. To watch the senator grill the EPA administrator, click here. For a copy of the legislation, click here. For Gov. Douglas' written testimony, click here. To watch the senator question the governor, click here.