California Law Will Limit CO2 Emissions From Cars

By Cat Lazaroff

SACRAMENTO, California, July 22, 2002 (ENS) - California today became the first state in the nation to regulate emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from motor vehicles. Governor Gray Davis signed legislation ordering the state's air quality board to develop statewide standards for tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide, beginning in model year 2009.

The new law is aimed at reducing the global warming impacts of carbon emissions from cars, light trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and could prompt similar legislation in other states across the nation.

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California Governor Gray Davis signed legislation today that will limit carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
"This is the first law in America to substantively address the greatest environmental challenge of the 21st century," Governor Davis said. "In time, every state - and hopefully every country - will act to protect future generations from the threat of global warming. For California, that time is now."

Assembly Bill 1493, authored by state assembly member Fran Pavley, a Democrat, requires the California Air Resources Board to develop carbon dioxide (CO2) standards for vehicles in model year 2009 and beyond. The standards will apply to automakers' fleet averages, rather than each individual vehicle, and carmakers will be able to partially achieve the standards by reducing pollution from non-vehicle sources, including automobile factories.

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California Assemblymember Fran Pavley, author of the bill targeting vehicle CO2 emissions. (Photo courtesy California Assembly)
"Today is another giant step toward cleaner air for all Californians and serves as a model for our country to follow," said Pavley.

Automakers have warned that the law could force them to produce smaller, less safe cars, or could force a statewide ban on large, gas guzzling vehicles such as SUVs. But Davis said Californians will continue to be able to choose from the same wide variety of vehicles.

"The technology is available. It's affordable. And it's widely utilized in other countries," Davis explained. "We're merely asking business to do what business does best: innovate, compete, find solutions to problems and do it in a way that strengthens the economy."

"Opponents of this bill say the sky is falling," Davis explained. "But they said it about unleaded gasoline. They said it about catalytic converters. They said it about seat belts and air bags. But the sky is not falling. It's just getting a whole lot cleaner."

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Vehicle emissions account for about 40 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution emitted in California. (Photo courtesy National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
California ranks second in the nation - behind Texas - in overall emissions of CO2, the most common greenhouse gas. Most of California's emissions of CO2 comes from transportation and almost 40 percent is from passenger vehicles.

In June, researchers from several California universities released a new study documenting that global warming could reduce the state's supplies of fresh drinking water, and make remaining supplies less predictable. Other experts warn of increased wildfire risk, added strain on the electric grid, and deterioration in air quality from the changing climate.

"You don't have to look far to see where California could be affected by global warming," Davis said. "From our seaside communities to our low lying agricultural land to the Tracy pumps that send fresh water south, we could be affected by a relatively small rise in sea level. The Department of Water Resources tells me that California's snowpack, our state's greatest natural reservoir, is already less reliable than it was just a few decades ago. We know the costs if we don't act."

"This legislation is based four-square on sound science," he added. "Global warming is no longer a theory. It's an urgent reality."

The bill won wide support from conservation groups and many of the state's business leaders. In June, a poll conducted by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California found that more than 80 percent of state residents support setting limits on CO2 pollution from vehicles.

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The bill offers automakers a variety of ways to meet new emissions restrictions. (Photo courtesy U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
"California business is happy to see AB 1493 signed," said Bob Epstein, co-founder of Sybase and the business group Environmental Entrepreneurs. "We believe that a healthy environment and a stable climate is in the best interest of all California businesses."

"Today California is leading the nation and the world and showing that we can address our environmental problems and keep our economy strong," added Sierra Club president Carl Pope. "We can and we must do this."

The bill had an uphill battle to overcome a well funded campaign by automakers who warned that enforcing the new law could require new vehicle or gasoline taxes, slower speed limits or restrictions on the number of miles consumers would be allowed to drive. The bill passed the state legislature by a single vote earlier this month after supporters presented evidence that most of those steps are beyond the power of the Air Resources Board (ARB) to enact, and none of the steps would be necessary to reduce CO2 emissions.

Governor Davis echoed those arguments today when signing the bill.

"Some of the technology to reduce carbon pollution is already in use today on vehicles you can buy from your local dealership," Davis said. "These technologies are as simple as smoother rolling tires and wheels, some as innovative as advanced transmissions or hybrid drives. The bill I've signed directs the ARB to consider the overall costs of these technologies. In any case, the ARB will be setting the standards, but the carmakers will decide what specific technologies to use."

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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)
Because California set its own limits on air pollution before the enactment of the federal Clean Air Act, the state is the only one in the nation to be allowed to set pollution rules overriding the federal law. California has the strictest air quality standards in the nation, and requires cleaner fuel than any other state.

Under a special provision of the Clean Air Act, any state is free to adopt California's strict emissions standards in place of weaker federal rules, and a number of states, including New York, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont, have followed in California's footsteps. These states, representing some of the nation's largest automobile markets, could force the auto industry to make nationwide changes in tailpipe emissions standards.

Even other nations took note of California's new law.

"This is a dramatic breakthrough," said Gerry Scott, director of the climate change campaign at Canada's Davis Suzuki Foundation. "This is the single biggest initiative on global warming ever taken in North America. And if California can do it, so can Canada."

Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler have already announced plans to produce low CO2 emissions, fuel efficient hybrid SUVs within the next few years. But a number of automakers have threatened to sue to block new mandatory CO2 emissions standards in California.

Speaking to the automakers who opposed California's newest emissions law, Davis said, "We Californians love our cars. "Don't change our cars. Just change the amount of harmful emissions that come from our cars."