California sues EPA over clean car waiver

Anyone watching this story had to know California wasn’t going to walk away from this fight. California has become the trumpeter of clean air with Schwarzenegger traveling the world holding the environmental beacon of light.

For the first time, states could be allowed to limit greenhouse gasses to prevent climate change, which is recognized as a global issue. California feels they should have received this waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency. It is a historical moment that they didn’t because California has never been denied a waiver before. There are a couple of differences with this waiver, and they need to be examined.

First, let me say that I don’t agree with either the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) ruling or the California Air Resources Board (CARB) wanting to implement a new ruling for California. If you look at the sprawl of suburbia or the increase of gasoline we are using in the past thirty years, you know that increasing the miles per gallon of a car will not reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

There are two ways that have been proven to be successful in reducing the dependence on foreign oil: raising the price of gasoline and switching from gasoline to an alternative energy. Raising the price of gasoline would be political suicide, so don’t expect that to happen. While it is not much, just using the corn ethanol that we are right now, we are saving $50 million a day on our trade deficit. Ethanol will be a slow process till we get to cellulosic ethanol, somewhere around 2011.

But what are the differences with the CARB ruling? In some corners, CARB rulings are almost sacrosanct, but let’s take a step back before we just blithely let one state, albeit the 12th largest polluter in the world, decide a nation’s fate for all of us.

Californians have already seen diesel vehicles locked out of California because the engines couldn’t meet the required Californian standards, the technology was just not financially feasible, and the diesel wasn’t clean enough. If CARB were so concerned about greenhouse gas emissions they should have allowed diesel engines into California: diesel gets about 25 percent better fuel economy than gasoline, which would have reduced the greenhouse gas emissions instantly.

According to a 1998 New York Times article, “California regulators say that reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses is not their problem, and should be handled by the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington. ”Our clear, unmistakable authority to enact regulations is to reduce urban smog,” said Allan S. Hirsch, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board. ”Global warming is an international issue and the U.S. E.P.A. ought to be the agency taking the lead.”

California was the first state to institute emission standards; even before the Clean Air Act (CAA) enactment. Because of this, the CAA has always granted California a waiver to set higher emission standards. Once California has received the waiver, other states can follow suit or stick with the Federal requirements.

California has always been able to get the waiver using the argument that California has “compelling and extraordinary” conditions that need to be met. The EPA would argue that if seventeen states, 50 percent of the automotive market, want to follow Californias lead than the conditions arent compelling to just California. It might have been a smarter move for the other sixteen states to keep quiet till California got the waiver and then move in.

Senator Boxer, D-California, took EPA Administrator Johnson to task in the Senate hearing this morning over the fact that other states wanted this waiver, dismissing the FACT that California is the only state that can get this waiver. Johnson reminded Boxer that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) just passed a rule implementing a new CAFÉ ruling that all the states could follow.

Another issue with California deciding to institute regulations and other states following is that those other states don’t have to follow suit on all the regulations: they can pick and choose. For instance, some states have smog control; some don’t. California allows the worst polluters, cars manufactured before 1975, not to have to be smogged. Michigan doesn’t have smog control at all.

On December 19, 2007, President Bush signed an energy legislation bill that raises the fuel economy standards to a fleetwide average of 35 mpg by 2020. The same day the EPA denied California their waiver.

There were sixteen states that would have followed Californias lead to implement the higher regulations. Those states were Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. They have now joined California in a lawsuit for the waiver.

Folks need to remember that both these entities are political machines. Whether it is a Governor trying to look out for the best interest of their state, or trying to be elected to Congress all sides of the equation need to be questioned.

In a rather pithy comment, Senator Frank Lautenberg, (D-New Jersey) asked Johnson, “Is global warming dangerous to human health?” When Johnson answered that he was abiding by the EPA rules, Lautenberg chided back, “You could leave your job if your conscious were so severe.” If Lautenberg wanted to clean up his state, or just stop wasting fuel, he could shut down every drive-thru, charge more on tolls during congestion, time all the lights to the posted speed, and increase the price of gasoline.

That would be political suicide so that it won’t happen. But Lautenberg can rail on Johnson, so he will be able to sleep at night and keep his job, and his conscious clean.

Listen to Lou Ann Hammond on The John Batchelor show discussing California’s EPA wavier.

About the Author:

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), Women's World Car of the Year (WWCOTY), and the Concept Car of the Year.

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