Can Climate Politics Get Any Dirtier?

When a federal judge in Vermont ruled earlier this month that California has the right to regulate greenhouse gases, it looked like one more step toward states doing what the federal government has refused to: mandate reductions in carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, not just jawbone utilities and manufacturers into voluntary reductions, as the Bush White House prefers. But although California had overcome the objections of the auto industry, which brought the Vermont suit, it turns out its biggest obstacle still lay before it: the Bush Administration.

In order to implement the mandatory reductions, California needs a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency, essentially giving the state the okay to do something Washington refuses to. Now, according to documents released today by California Rep. Henry Waxman, the Bush administration has been working furiously behind the scenes to make sure that doesn't happen.

The back story, in brief: California passed the first state law requiring auto makers to start making cars that emit less carbon dioxide (presumably through greater fuel efficiency, or by making cars that run on fuels other than gasoline) in 2002, and set standards for those reductions in 2004. Cars in the 2016 model year would have to emit 30 percent less CO2 than current models; by 2012, emissions from cars and light trucks would have to be cut 25 percent from 2005 levels.

Eleven other states, primarily in the northeast, adopted the California standards (under the federal Clean Air Act, states have the option of going with the federal rules for air pollution or with California's stricter ones). Automakers sued to keep the standards from going into effect. They lost the suit filed in Vermont; the suit in California is still pending. In December 2005, California asked EPA for the necessary waiver, which the other 11 states also require before their CO2 standards can go into effect The agency has said it will decide yes or no by the end of this year.

Today, Waxman released internal emails show that the Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters, "directed a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign approved by the White House to oppose EPA approval of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />California’s landmark standards reducing greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles," Waxman's office said in a statement.

In a letter to the White House, Waxman said, "Although the law entitles California to a decision on the merits, I learned in June that an official in the Department of Transportation has been making calls to congressional offices to urge members of Congress to oppose EPA approval of the California standards. . .

According to the emails and other documents Waxman got his hands on, starting last spring Secretary Mary Peters "