While most of us were home for winter break and settling in for a long vacation filled with binge cookie eating, radios blaring Christmas music and marathons of “The Office,” something important and productive was happening in California.

Waxman (D-Calif.), along with his Democratic colleagues in Congress announced Dec. 27 that they would conduct an investigation into the Environmental Protection Agency’s refusal to let California set its own statewide standard for tailpipe emissions previously proposed in 2004. The state needed a Clean Air Act waiver in order to be able to implement the standard. The waiver was denied, California’s first such denial from the EPA in decades. On Wednesday, the state of California backed its representative, filing suit against the EPA

EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson, who argued that statewide standards were unnecessary in light of recent national reforms, led the EPA’s action. Waxman is demanding all documents used in the EPA’s decision and is accusing it of having “ignored the evidence before the agency and the requirements of the Clean Air Act”.

Not surprisingly, when asked to comment, President Bush sided with the EPA, saying, “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?”

How much of this debate is actually about environmentalism? With elections right around the corner, every action must be looked at with a degree of skepticism. However, because it is the holiday season, a time when warm, fuzzy feelings float through the air like unavoidable bits of dust, I’ll err on the side of optimism.

The national legislation recently signed by Bush requires that fuel efficiency for cars, SUVs and small trucks reach 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020. California’s plan is structured differently but could translate into efficiency standards between 33.8 to 36.8 mpg by 2016. It also demands immediate action in the form of cutbacks for 2009 model lines.

My fingers are growing weary of typing this phrase over and over again: The administration’s position is ridiculous. In what way do state standards interfere with those created by the federal government? So long as state standards minimally comply with national standards, there is no harm in setting more ambitious goals.

If the argument is that these standards are comparable, there is still no reason for prohibiting tougher state standards. Doubly enforced standards would be, while at worst a bit redundant, hardly a barrier to Bush’s “national strategy.” If they were enforced on both a state and national level, it is twice as likely that they might actually be effective. The state could take up the government’s slack when it fails to follow through. And that happens a lot. Far from being a better way, Bush’s position simply amounts to doing nothing unless everyone can agree. It’s also nothing short of confused and nonsensical.

States that take the initiative to create and implement higher standards for environmental quality should not be denied. This is in no way helpful to the success of the environmental movement or the country as a whole. It might upset some auto manufacturers but it’s time that these gas-guzzling dinosaurs realize that dawdling toward greener vehicles without real progress will not be tolerated. With this decision, the only thing the federal government succeeds in doing is impeding progress. It has done enough of already.

The administration has failed to provide good reasons for denying the waiver. Waxman deserves praise for stepping up and pointing out this irrationality. It is something that needs to be done more often by politicians, the media and citizens.

Don’t get me wrong – Waxman is not Hercules. He’s not running into the Oval Office and impeaching Bush (a girl can dream, can’t she?). But right now, Waxman gets the limelight for having the balls to step up to a government that has consistently made too many bad decisions with too little explanation.

Kate Truesdell can be reached at ketrue@umich.edu.

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