Volunteers from the California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG) will be providing cell phones in front of the UCen today for students to call the Environmental Protection Agency and voice their opposition to proposed changes of the Clean Air Act.

The phone-in protest coincides with the promised lawsuit by seven states trying to force the federal government to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the latest in a string of challenges by states and cities to the Bush administration’s go-slow approach on climate change.

CalPIRG volunteers Rob Cunningham and Ashley Reede will be outside the UCen from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. to get 250 UCSB students to make calls on the spot to the office of head EPA administrator, Christine T. Whitman.

Reede said the Verizon Wireless Corporation donated the phones.

“The EPA has proposed to alter the Clean Air Act to roll back environmental protections on 17,000 power plants to escape modern pollution controls,” Cunningham said. “These are plants that have already not been complying with current regulations.”

Cunningham said the enforcement of these rules would prevent the release of millions of tons of pollutants into the atmosphere.

The prospect of a global warming lawsuit by seven state attorneys general, all Democrats, was announced Thursday, based on the argument that the Environmental Protection Agency is violating the Clean Air Act in not addressing the climate issue.

The states contend that the EPA has not analyzed the health and environmental impacts of power plant emissions, as it is required to do every eight years. Because of new scientific evidence about global warming, such an analysis would show that carbon dioxide should be added to the list of emissions considered to be regulated pollutants, the lawsuit will argue.

The action follows other initiatives from states – and in some cases communities – to address climate change. The cities of Oakland, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., last year joined lawsuits against federal agencies over global warming. California enacted legislation requiring tougher fuel economy standards for automobiles to curtail carbon emissions.

“We want to let the EPA know that there are citizens in California who don’t support the roll back of these restrictions,” Reede said.

The latest legal effort is coordinated by Eliot Spitzer, New York’s attorney general. The other states are Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington.

The attorneys general made public a letter notifying Whitman of their intention to file suit in federal court unless an agreement can be reached with the agency within 60 days.

Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut’s attorney general, said the states are acting because the Bush administration isn’t doing enough to address climate change and “to force the government to obey and enforce the law.”

Rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will cause “more disease, health damage, weather extremes, droughts and floods” as the earth’s temperature increases, Blumenthal said.

Joe Martyak, an EPA spokesman, said the agency has recently reviewed the effects of some power plant pollutants, such as smog-causing nitrogen oxides.

“We’ve updated some of them; I don’t know about all,” he said. “We have in place all the federal air quality standards required by the Clean Air Act, and Administrator Whitman, as well as the president, have been clear that C02 is not a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.”

Martyak said the lawsuit smacked of politics. Each of the seven attorneys general serves a Democratic governor or – as in New York – is a Democrat independently elected.

Separately, the Sierra Club and Our Children’s Earth Foundation announced Thursday they are suing the EPA because the agency has failed to update emissions standards for power plants.

CalPIRG is scheduled to sponsor other telephone protests on every other UC campus except Riverside before Mar. 3, when the period for public comment on the proposed Clean Air Act alterations will end, Cunningham said.

The 1990 Clean Air Act is a federal law that allows the EPA to set limits on how much of a pollutant can be in the air anywhere in the United States.

President Bush has urged a cautious approach to dealing with climate change associated with pollutants.

He rejected as too costly to the U.S. economy a treaty negotiated in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, that would require industrial countries to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to below 1990 levels by 2012.

Instead, Bush announced a program to work with industry to improve energy efficiency and find other ways to help curtail the growth of carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

United Nations climate experts have predicted that a concentration of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere could cause dramatic climate changes, with up to a 10.5 degree Fahrenheit warming of the earth by the end of this century.

According to the savethecleanairact.org website – run by environmental advocacy groups including the Natural Resource Defense Council, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club – the Bush administration has decided to weaken clean-air pollution protections under pressure from industrial lobbyists.

– The Associated Press also contributed to this story.