HARRISBURG - Governors from California to New Jersey say they will sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its decision this week to block states from imposing stricter emissions standards in new vehicles.

"We will certainly challenge the president's decision and fight to reinstate the rule that we worked to put in place," said Kathleen McGinty, secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection.

Darlene Yuhas, a spokeswoman for New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, confirmed that New Jersey also would pursue legal action against the EPA.

The states' action comes amid a hue and cry from national environmental groups and promises of an investigation by congressional Democrats into why the federal agency refused to grant waivers to California to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars by 30 percent by 2016. Sixteen states want to adopt the California rule.

Leaders of a number of affected states reacted with outrage yesterday to the EPA's ruling.

"It is completely absurd to assert that California does not have a compelling need to fight global warming by curbing greenhouse-gas emissions from cars," California Attorney General Jerry Brown said. "There is absolutely no legal justification for the Bush administration to deny this request - Gov. [Arnold] Schwarzenegger and I are preparing to sue at the earliest possible moment."

In a statement, Gov. Rendell said his administration would "not stand by and accept this short-sighted decision."

"Now that American automakers must begin increasing the fuel economy of their vehicles, we have an opportunity to implement already established technology to control the greenhouse-gas emissions that are threatening our planet and people," he said.

Gov. Corzine called it a "horrendous decision."

"If we are serious about global warming and we are serious about changing the quality of air . . . this direction [of states' setting emissions goals] has to be followed," he told reporters in Trenton during a year-end news conference.

President Bush stood by the decision of his EPA administrator yesterday. "The question is how to have an effective strategy. Is it more effective to let each state make a decision as to how to proceed in curbing greenhouse gases, or is it more effective to have a national strategy?" Bush said at a news conference.

EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said the waivers were no longer necessary because Congress passed a bill this week raising fuel-economy standards nationwide.

The bill, which Bush signed on Wednesday, requires automakers to boost fleetwide fuel economy for cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 but does not address carbon dioxide emissions.

McGinty called the new fuel standard a step forward but said it pertains to fuel economy, not greenhouse gases.

The tailpipe standards California adopted in 2004 would have forced automakers to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016, with the cutbacks beginning in the 2009 model year.

During the Pennsylvania statehouse debate last year over whether to adopt the California standards, automakers contended the rule would boost sticker prices by as much as $3,000. Rendell officials said that the increase would be closer to $1,000 and that the cost would be offset by lower fuel costs from improved gas mileage.

Under the Clean Air Act, California needed a federal waiver to implement the rules, and other states could then adopt them, too. California, Pennsylvania and other states sued the EPA two years ago over its delay in granting the waivers.

Republican leaders in Pennsylvania's state Senate, who lost a bitter fight to stop the Rendell administration from adopting the California rule, praised the EPA's move, saying it would reduce costs for motorists.

"This is a first - but very significant - step in stopping a potentially costly and unnecessary vehicle standard from being imposed upon Pennsylvania motorists," said Sens. Mary Jo White (R., Venango) and Roger Madigan (R., Bradford) in a statement released yesterday.

But McGinty countered that not imposing the standards would increase costs for consumers at the gas pump because their vehicles would be less fuel-efficient.

"Efforts to force consumers to pay higher gas bills are no favor to consumers," she said.

John Hanger, president of PennFuture, a Pennsylvania environmental advocacy group, called the EPA decision a "travesty" and predicted it would be struck down by the courts.

"The reason why Pennsylvania and California wanted to adopt the clean-vehicle rule is because the Bush administration had adopted rules that don't require the cleanup of the air, don't require sufficient reduction in global-warming pollution, and don't require automakers to install in vehicles technology that's available to do those things," he said.

It was the first time the EPA had completely denied California a Clean Air Act waiver request, after granting more than 50.

Coming Monday 2007 Top Health & Science Stories

The stem-cell breakthrough.

The never-ending list of tainted food, toys and toothpaste from China.

And bigger than all of them: global warming. From melting glaciers to catastrophic predictions to bruising bargaining at the U.N. conference in Bali, this was the year that climate change hit the world's radar screen.

In Monday's Health & Science section.EndText

Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.
Inquirer staff writers Angela Couloumbis and Craig McCoy contributed to this article, which also includes information from the Associated Press.