So much for states’ rights and doing the right thing for the environment, if it goes against the grain of the auto and oil industry then clean air be hanged.

Late last month, Johnson denied California’s petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. It was an act of pure, unmitigated, just-because-I-can chutzpah.

A little background first: California’s rule would seek to cut emissions by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016. Not surprisingly, that’s a much steeper cut than the Bush Administration (and the auto industry) wants. Since other states are following California’s lead, half of the American population (and car consumers) could be affected. The CEOs of Ford and Chrysler met with Dick Cheney late last year to have a chat about this.

But Johnson came through. Consider Johnson denied California its waiver (states have to get the EPA’s OK before instituting environmental rules) despite:

— the unanimous recommendation of the agency’s legal and technical staffs that he should grant the waiver

— being told by the agency’s legal staff that if he blocked the waiver, EPA would lose in court when California and environmentalists sued, but that if he granted the waiver, the move would stand in court no matter who challenged it

— not having any real reason for denying the waiver

— California has never had a waiver denied in the Clean Air Act’s 37-year history

Declaring that the EPA has exceeded its authority California and other states have filed suit

“The EPA has done nothing at the national level to curb greenhouse gases, and now it has wrongfully and illegally blocked California’s landmark tailpipe emissions standards,” state Attorney General Jerry Brown said at a news conference in San Francisco.

He said EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson had offered no coherent legal explanation for his Dec. 19 refusal to let California act and accused President Bush’s appointee of merely “doing the bidding of the auto industry.”

The lawsuit was endorsed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said federal regulators were “ignoring the will of millions of people who want their government to take action in the fight against global warming.”