California Plans Cuts in Vehicle CO2 Emissions

By Cat Lazaroff

SACRAMENTO, California, February 1, 2002 (ENS) - By the narrowest of margins, the California State Assembly has approved a bill that could create the nation's first restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from automobile tailpipes. The bill directs the California Air Resources Board to adopt regulations that reduce the greenhouse gas pollution emitted by passenger vehicles.


Vehicle emissions account for 58 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution, compared to 31 percent for the nation as a whole (Photo courtesy National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
The California Assembly voted 42-24 along party lines to pass AB 1058 by Democratic Assembly member Fran Pavley. Forty-one votes were required to pass the bill.

If the measure becomes law, state regulators will draft rules aimed at achieving "the maximum feasible reduction" of carbon dioxide emitted by California's passenger vehicles and light duty trucks, including sport utility vehicles. The regulations would need to be in place by January 2004, but auto manufacturers would be given flexibility in deciding how to achieve the new standards.

The Board would be required to provide a report about the proposed program to the California Legislature by 2003, and the Legislature would then have one year to review the regulations.

"This bill will give us the opportunity to protect California's economy, public health and the environment from the potentially devastating effects of global warming," said Assemblymember Pavley. "The bill will also allow California to greatly affect the outcome of the world's global warming crisis."


California Assemblymember Fran Pavley, author of the bill targeting vehicle CO2 emissions (Photo courtesy California Assembly)
"Global warming is the most urgent environmental problem we face today," Pavley added. "According to a consensus of the world's top scientists, global warming will increase extreme weather conditions and will potentially devastate many of the critical economic drivers in the state, including the agricultural, fishing, timber, real estate and insurance industries."

The bill was cosponsored by two conservation groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Bluewater Network. The Democratically controlled California Senate took up the bill today, and is expected to pass it as well.

"California has to take the lead in addressing climate change because we are a significant part of the problem and because the White House and Congress have dropped the ball," said Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director for NRDC.

Carbon dioxide and other emissions from cars and light trucks are responsible for one third of statewide climate change pollution, Notthoff noted.

"Climate change is a global problem, but its effects will be felt locally. Rising temperatures will increase summer smog and a smaller Sierra snowpack would cut water supplies in a state already thirsty for water," Notthoff explained. "California's 22.6 million cars and light trucks belch 142 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. California cannot solve climate change alone, but we can reduce our contribution to the problem and make ourselves a model for the rest of the world."


California has long been a leader in combatting vehicle emissions, passing regulations that encouraged sales of emission free vehicles like the EV1, an electric car (Photo courtesy General Motors)
Under a provision of the federal Clean Air Act, if California adopts AB 1058, other states will be able to follow suit, matching the new emissions limits with laws of their own.

The bill has the support of a broad coalition of individuals and organizations, including Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a group of Silicon Valley business leaders that took an active role in meeting with legislators and galvanizing the business community to back the bill.

"As business leaders, we recognize that immediate action must be taken to preserve the economic and natural resources that our state's businesses and residents depend and thrive on," said Bob Epstein, founder of E2. "The long term economic benefits of this bill stretch well beyond climate change protection. In fact, a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that carbon dioxide emissions from personal vehicles could be reduced by 30 to 40 percent by using readily available technologies that will save consumers thousands of dollars at the pump."

Local governments - including Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose - have also expressed support for the bill, as have a number of public health groups.

"This is a huge victory for the environment, air quality, and public health. It's also a win for motorists who will save on their gas costs," said Russell Long, executive director of Bluewater Network. "By taking this reasonable step now, we'll help insure a livable planet for our children."

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Hybrid electric vehicles might become more common in California if the new CO2 regulations become law (Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company)
Assemblymember Pavley said she wrote the bill because of California's outsized global warming emissions.

"California has a unique responsibility to help solve global warming," said Assemblymember Pavley. "Our state is home to just half of one percent of the world's population, but produces nearly two percent of global carbon emissions."

In California, transportation is responsible for 58 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution, compared to 31 percent for the nation as a whole.

"Global warming is not only an environmental threat, but also a public health threat," said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, assistant vice president of the American Lung Association in California. "Air pollution is already a problem in California, and global warming will only worsen it. AB 1058 is a proactive measure that reduces both of these problems."

The auto industry says the bill is likely to increase costs for automakers forced to develop new technologies to meet the new requirements. No existing technology can directly control carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from vehicles, said Gloria Bergquist, a spokesperson for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.


California Governor Gray Davis is expected to sign the bill if it passes the state senate (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
The only way to reduce CO2 emissions would be to reduce a vehicle's fuel consumption, Bergquist added, saying that consumers in California may be faced with a reduced vehicle selection as automakers scramble to find models that will meet the new restrictions.

But conservation groups say the auto industry should consider other alternatives, such as alternative fuels and better tires.

"We've repeatedly asked the auto industry to collaborate in shaping this bill, but they refused," said Bluewater's Long. "Like the tobacco industry, they deny there's even a problem. We're glad the legislature saw through the rhetoric."