The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has reopened the petition seeking to control greenhouse gases after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling this week that the government can regulate emissions from cars.
The action by the Environmental Protection Agency breathes life into California's effort to become the first state to cut tailpipe emissions from cars, light trucks and sport utility vehicles. It also could influence the outcome of an auto industry lawsuit in California to block the state regulations.
The state wants automakers to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks by 25 percent and from sport utility vehicles by 18 percent starting in 2009. Eleven other states have since adopted California's standard.
"We've reviewed the issues within the waiver request," EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood said Tuesday. "We're moving forward to the next steps of the process."
The agency next will schedule a public comment period and public hearing.
The EPA previously argued the agency could not regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles because it would require an increase in fuel economy standards, something only the U.S. Department of Transportation can set.
But in its 5-4 decision Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA had such authority.
"It's clear EPA has to consider California's waiver request now," said Sean Hecht, executive director of the environmental law center at the University of California, Los Angeles. "That doesn't mean it's a foregone conclusion with respect to the waiver request."
California has special authority under the federal Clean Air Act to set its own vehicle pollution standards because it began regulating air pollution before the federal government did in the 1970s.
Monday's court ruling also prompted movement Tuesday in a separate lawsuit brought by the auto industry to prevent California from moving forward with its own regulations.
The California Air Resources Board, along with several environmental groups, officially notified U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii of the Supreme Court's decision. In January, he placed the lawsuit on hold pending a decision by the court.
It is unclear what the next step will be in the case. But both sides said the Supreme Court's decision favors their argument.
Raymond Ludwiszewski, an attorney representing the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, interpreted the ruling as a directive that greenhouse gas regulations should be crafted at the federal level.