Part of the EPA's process includes hearings at which interested parties – the auto industry, environmental groups, citizens – lay out their arguments for or against granting a waiver. The hearing in Sacramento follows one in Washington on May 23. No others are scheduled.
"Federal regulations say we need to make sure that implementing California's tailpipe emission standards would not be arbitrary and capricious," says EPA spokesman John Millett. The EPA could take from two months to two years to make its decision, he says. The EPA can deny the waiver only if the agency finds 1) that California does not need its standards "to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions" or 2) that the standards are inconsistent with other measures of the Clean Air Act.
Governor Schwarzenegger, state Attorney General Edmund "Jerry" Brown Jr., and other state attorneys general want the EPA to pick up its pace. Led by California, they vow to take legal action by October if the EPA has not acted. Their hope is that a US court would force the agency to make a decision, if it were to find the EPA timetable to be unreasonable.
The EPA's Mr. Millett says such suits are common, and he notes that the agency is equally vulnerable to lawsuits if it does not meet its mandate for holding proper and fair hearings.
The waiver process raises complicated questions of states' rights and federal prerogatives amid a political backdrop that has twisted the usual Republican-Democrat dynamic, say some observers.
"Traditionally, Democrats are stronger federalists at the expense of states, and conservatives and Republicans espouse stronger states' rights," says James Winebrake, chairman of the public policy department at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. "In this case, the White House is dragging its feet and you have to ask why.... That is what the governors of these states are pressing for answers about."