California Targets Cars to Fight Global Warming


California adopted the nation's first limits on automobile emissions to curtail greenhouse gases in a move that also will trigger tougher exhaust rules in seven East Coast states but likely will bring a legal challenge by the auto industry.

Carrying out a 2002 state law, the California Air Resources Board voted Sept. 24 to issue regulations requiring model-year 2009 cars and light trucks to begin reducing emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, a by-product of gasoline combustion that is blamed for contributing to global warming. The requirements would get tougher over the following eight years until emissions are cut by nearly 30 percent.

While the California Legislature will have one year to look over the regulations before they go into effect, the rules are expected to have repercussions nationwide.

Seven states Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont automatically will copy the new global warming initiative because they already have opted to follow California vehicle emissions standards, which are stricter than those set by the federal government.

Including California, these states make up more than one-fourth of the American car market.

"What California is doing now is certain to have repercussions with other states who look to California to set the bar and put the nation in the direction of achieving real greenhouse gas reductions," said Louise Bedsworth, a senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Berkeley, Calif.

An auto industry trade group already has vowed to challenge the regulations in court. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers contends the only way manufacturers can meet the stringent carbon-dioxide reductions is to greatly increase the fuel efficiency of cars. It sees the emissions regulations as an illegal, back-door attempt by California to impose vehicle fuel economy standards stronger than those set by Congress. The federal Energy and Conservation Act of 1975 prohibits states from adopting policies on fuel economy.

The auto industry used similar arguments to hold up California's "Zero Emission Vehicles" rule for two years in court. The industry failed to overturn the rule, which goes into effect in 2005 and requires auto manufacturers to offer more hybrid and low-emission vehicles for sale.

The trade group, which represents many major automakers, says meeting the greenhouse gas emission standard will add up to $3,000 to the average cost of a vehicle. The state estimates the new rules will cost consumers about $1,000, which would be recouped in fuel savings over the life of the vehicle.

"We're disappointed that California regulators have chosen to single out California drivers to pay a $3,000 surcharge with no apparent health or environmental benefit to its citizens," Fred Webber, president of the auto group, said when he testified against the measure last week

California also faces a major hurdle in obtaining approval from the federal government to enact global warming regulations.

Although California is the only state with the authority to write air pollution and vehicle emissions regulations stronger than federal rules, it still must apply for a waiver to the federal Clean Air Act from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Getting that waiver may depend on who is elected president this fall, a state air resources official said.

President George W. Bush's administration to date has not taken action on global warming. John Kerry, the Democratic challenger, has indicated he will pursue policies to curb greenhouse gases.

Under Bush, the EPA ruled last year that carbon dioxide was not a pollutant and could not be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Ten states, including California, are challenging that ruling in federal court.

California is known as a leader in fighting air pollution. Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont have opted since the 1990s to follow California's air pollution standards. Lawmakers in Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island voted this year to follow California's stricter regulations. Under the Clean Air Act, these states are required to mirror any changes in vehicle emissions standards made by California.

Officials in these states are impatient with the federal government's inaction on regulating heat-trapping gases that many scientists say contribute to global warming, said Ken Colburn, executive director of Northeast States For Coordinated Air Use Management.

New England states and five eastern Canadian provinces already have set goals to reduce greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2010. Under Republican Gov. George Pataki, New York has created a regional market in which power plants can buy and sell carbon-dioxide credits.

"Officials in these states are definitely looking at (California's emissions rule) to help achieve some of their goals," Colburn said.


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