Tailpipe standards California adopted in 2004 would have forced automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016, with the cutbacks beginning in the 2009 model year. Under the Clean Air Act, California needed a federal waiver to implement its rules, and other states could then adopt them.
"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," Bush said at a news conference.
Johnson on Wednesday said his decision was based on legal analysis of the Clean Air Act and that California's emissions limits weren't needed because Congress has passed energy legislation requiring automakers to achieve an industry-wide average fuel efficiency for cars, SUVs and small trucks of 35 miles per gallon by 2020.
"The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules," Johnson said in announcing his decision.
California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and congressional Democrats protested Johnson's decision.
"California sued to compel the agency to act on our waiver, and now we will sue to overturn today's decision and allow Californians to protect our environment," said Schwarzenegger in a statement.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., sent a letter to Johnson demanding "all documents relating to the California waiver request, other than those that are available on the public record."
The decision against California "appears to have ignored the evidence before the agency and the requirements of the Clean Air Act," Waxman wrote.
Twelve other states -- Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington -- have adopted the California emissions standards, and the governors of Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Utah have said they also plan to adopt them. The rules were also under consideration in Iowa.