MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The federal government says California cannot set its own tougher standards for greenhouse-gas limits on cars, trucks and SUVs. The decision is a setback for California and 17 other states that wanted to cut tailpipe emissions to below federal levels. The Environmental Protection Agency made the announcement this evening here in Washington, D.C. Joining me now to discuss the significance of the EPA move is NPR's environmental correspondent, Elizabeth Shogren.

Elizabeth, let's start by taking a look at what California wanted to do. How much lower were its emission standards?

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: They wanted to cut emissions by 30 percent by 2016. So, the biggest thing to remember is that their standards would have kicked in really soon by 2009 model years, which is the next year, basically. And then, they would cut emissions faster than what the federal government is talking about and they would also apply to a wider range of emissions - all of the various greenhouse gas emissions that cars emit, not just the mileage standard.

NORRIS: So, why did EPA say California could not set its own greenhouse gas limits?

SHOGREN: Well, EPA said that California doesn't have an exclusive right to the problem of global warming, that everybody shares in the burden of global warming because everybody's hurt by global warming and everybody shares in the problem because it's a global problem. So, because of that, they said they were rejecting them.

They also said that because the Congress went ahead and set fuel efficiency standards, that the president just signed into law today, that that basically would take the place of what California is doing and it would be one better because it's a national program that would apply to all 50 states and not just to California and whatever states wanted to follow them.

NORRIS: Now, the EPA decision also was made today - actually, very late in the day - have we heard any reaction from California?

SHOGREN: Yes. Governor Schwarzenegger says he's very disappointed and he plans to sue. He doesn't want this to stand.

NORRIS: Is the EPA ruling the final word on this effort by California - he plans to sue, so that he could find relief from the courts?

SHOGREN: Yes. And the environmentalists I talked to think that EPA doesn't have a leg to stand on. The - California has a long tradition of getting waivers from the federal government to make tougher pollution standards than the federal government has. And never before has the federal government turn them done.

So, the environmentalists I talked to say that they think they can go to court and win this. But the problem is that that will take time and that means that these standards will be delayed at very least. And that might set them back enough so that it doesn't really matter. So, in a way, the Bush administration gets what it wants, which is to slow down the standards.

NORRIS: And just quickly, what about the 17 other states?

SHOGREN: These other states are in the same place as - they're upset about this. There's already been a letter sent out from all of the officials who are in charge of clean air programs, and all of the states saying that they're very upset that this is happening. But they - California is the only state that has this special right to get waivers. And so, they have no recourse except through the courts.

NORRIS: Thank you, Elizabeth.

SHOGREN: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Elizabeth Shogren.

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