EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has denied California’s petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks—against the advice of technical and legal staff, reports the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin. Governor Schwarzenegger says his state will sue over the decision, and EPA lawyers and staff predict California will win that suit (just as states have won previous related suits).

Johnson claims that California’s proposed tailpipe emissions standards aren’t necessary, anyway, because the Energy Bill that’s just been approved will boost fuel economy standards to a comparable level. (He neglected to mention that California’s standard requires quicker automaker action and continued improvements over time.) Just like the automakers, Johnson stresses that the federal legislation is better because it protects us all from that terrifying fate: having a patchwork of state standards. Whew – good thing we escaped that one! I’m sure everyone agrees it’s worth the price of rising sea levels, parched crops, and more climate-change-related death and disease.

David Roberts at Gristmill points out that Johnson is being both deceptive and hypocritical here.

As opposed to a frightening patchwork, the alternative is really just two standards – California’s, which other states can adopt or not (17 have said they will), and the federal one. Plus, today’s current emphasis on federal action being preferable to state action is directly at odds with an excuse the administration has leaned on to excuse its pathetic climate record. Via Gristmill, here’s U.S. lead negotiator Harlan Watson speaking at international climate talks in 2003, claiming that the U.S. is actually showing leadership on this issue:

Finally, I would like to highlight the efforts being made by State and local governments in the United States to address climate change. Geographically, the United States encompasses vast and diverse climatic zones representative of all major regions of the world — polar, temperate, semi-tropical, and tropical — with different heating, cooling, and transportation needs and with different energy endowments. Such diversity allows our State and local governments to act as laboratories where new and creative ideas and methods can be applied and shared with others and inform federal policy — a truly bottom-up approach to addressing global climate change.

The Bush administration could have backed up its rhetoric and allowed states to be laboratories for ideas and methods to address climate change. Instead, it waited for two years to decide on California’s petition, and now sets itself up for more years of delay and legal expenses. This decade is crucial for determining how severe the effects of climate change will be, but the Bush administration would evidently rather sentence us to heavier future devastation in order to buy a few more years of foot-dragging for its cronies in the auto industry.

Liz Borkowski works for the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services.