Schwarzenegger vs. the Feds

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Michael Dwyer / AP

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

TIME'S Kristin Kloberdanz sat down with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mary Nichols, chairperson of the California Air Resources Board, in Fresno, California to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denying the right of California and 16 other states to set their own fuel emission standards. The Governor was clearly frustrated though he remained genial. Excerpts from the interview:

TIME: How frustrating was the EPA ruling?
I always start with the positive. I was very happy that Congress and that the President signed into law [an improvement for] fuel efficiency of the vehicles by the year 2020. That is the first time in a long time, which, of course doesn't say much for the United States.... But it's good news. So that's number one. It's one of those things that you get that news in the morning and then a few hours later, then you get the real bad news. Which is that they don't believe that we should be controlling our own destiny and cleaning up the air and controlling the tailpipe emissions and all those kinds of things.
What this means is, we sued them in order to get the waiver [to set their own standards], now we're going to sue them to overturn the decision [denying the states the right to set their own standards]. And I think what it's basically saying is that they made a decision which is against the will of millions of people in California. It's a decision that is against the will of 16 other states. When I look at that, the Environmental Protection Agency is the Environmental Destruction Agency. The name says it protects the environment. How can that protect the environment when you don't want to let anyone really move forward with this agenda? And [as for] the excuse that it is a national issue and therefore it must be handled at a national level — I say to myself, "Wait a minute, let me think this through for a second," which we always do, we think a little bit. If you have a national problem with hunger and starvation, do I say, "Stop feeding people at the local level. We can't get involved. We have to have a policy nationally." No, we don't.

What, ideally, do you want in this situation?
What I'm saying is, give me a national policy that says we're going to take this seriously and we're going to fight global warming. But right now, there has been none. So how can you say you cannot regulate, you cannot have your own standards [that] we have to set a national standard, when there is no national standard? The tailpipe emission standard [of California] was already passed in 2002, the Pavley bill. There was no [national] standard. And in 2003, there was no standard. In 2004, there was no standard. In 2005, there was no standard. In 2006, there was no standard. So what are they talking about, "you cannot do this on your own because we have to have a national standard"? I say, "There is no standard!" Their standard is to have no standard. Therefore, we have to come in as a state.
It's always been the case if the federal government has fallen short on anything, the states come in. As a matter of fact, the federal government has said many times that we are the laboratories for the federal government. Let's have the states try something, if it's healthcare, education, whatever it is, because we all know all great things start at a grassroots level. Why are we all of a sudden fighting that? It can only be that [the federal government is] going to the car companies and [is] saying to them, "Hey what can you really handle comfortably here," and they tell them, and they say "Whoa whoa whoa," California is stepping over the line, this wouldn't help you.

MARY NICHOLS: Just to put a legal point on that, the [Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE)] legislation which is part of the Energy Bill [passed by Congress] is not a greenhouse gas emission standard. It's a totally different thing. The argument that somehow because we now have a CAFE standard that means we shouldn't be regulating greenhouse gases, it just doesn't hold water, it makes no sense.

SCHWARZENEGGER: That's absolutely right. And so, I just think that they've been dragging their feet. As I said to [EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson], I obviously respect their opinion and I understand where he's coming from, he can only go so far because he is part of the Administration, but the bottom line is, it's very, very disappointing. I think, again, this is news that will go all over the world that they are not serious.