Monday, August 29, 2005

New CAFE Standards Attempt End Run Around State Emissions Laws

While environmentalists are focused on the fuel economy aspects of the Bush administration's proposed new CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards, what is little noticed is an attempt to prevent states from setting tailpipe emission standards that are tougher than federal standards.

Norm Mineta unveiled a White House plan requiring higher mileage standards for cars and light trucks at a Los Angeles service station - in the state that leads the way on reducing automotive emissions of harmful greenhouse gases. But Bush's proposed reform of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards includes a provision directly conflicting with California's law, embraced so far by seven Northeastern states and, tentatively, by Washington. The new rules would prohibit states from setting higher emission standards than the federal government's. Automotive manufacturers sued over California's higher standards - litigation the Bush administration supports.

The California standards attempt to improve air quality by curbing emissions of greenhouse gases, beginning with the 2009 model year. Northeastern states - including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont - have embraced them.

Since the seventies, California has had tougher emissions standards than the rest of the country. As California is too large a market to ignore, automakers were forced to develop the technology to reduce emissions sooner than they would have if California hadn't forced them to. Other states benefited as well, since as national emission standards were tightened, the necessary R&D and gearing up for more advanced pollution control devices had already been done - effectively subsidized by the slightly higher prices paid by Californians for their vehicles. (That's OK, you can thank us later.)

But California is not going to take this lying down.

California Air Resources Board (ARB) Chair Cindy Tuck responded to statements made by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which assert that states do not have the authority to adopt motor vehicle standards that limit greenhouse gas emissions.

"NHTSA's preamble statement is not binding on ARB and is simply wrong. Congress gave California broad authority to adopt emission standards for motor vehicles when it passed the original Clean Air Act (CAA) in 1970 and it continued that authorization in the 1990 amendments. It has been understood for years that air quality regulations adopted by California might indirectly affect fuel economy, but the authority was granted nonetheless," said Cindy Tuck, ARB Chair.

The CAA gives the state clear authority to adopt motor vehicle standards that limit tailpipe emissions, with the understanding that those standards would likely differ from those adopted nationally. The state has stood firm on its assertion that California's greenhouse gas regulation is not a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard but a pollution control standard that limits ozone-forming nitrogen dioxides and hydroflourocarbons (HFCs) as well as carbon dioxide. In addition to being primary building blocks of ozone, nitrogen oxides are major contributors to California's particulate matter and acid deposition problems.

"Our Greenhouse Gas regulation is the centerpiece of Governor Schwarzenegger's work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Tuck said. "We will vigorously defend this regulation against unwarranted and misguided attacks."


So as usual, when they're waving their right hand around, you'd better keep an eye on what's going on with their left.


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