California's car makers face drive on global warming

Posted: 24 July 2002

California has become the first US state to cut the level of greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. In an effort to tackle global warming, Governor Gray Davis, signed the controversial legislation describing it as "the first law in America to substantively address the greatest environmental challenge of the 21st century."

Gray DavisCalifornia Governor, Gray Davis, signed legislation that will limit CO2 emissions from vehicles.Governor Davis added, "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."

The bill requires the California Air Resources Board to develop carbon dioxide (CO2) standards in vehicles to "achieve the maximum feasible reduction of greenhouse gas emissions." Under the law, state regulators will spend the next three years drawing up new production rules. The first vehicles designed to their specifications will be available no later than 2009.

The new CO2 standards will apply to car makers' fleet averages, rather than each individual vehicle, and car makers will be able to partially achieve the standards by reducing pollution from non-vehicle sources, including automobile factories.

The enactment of the new law marks the first time that large, gas-guzzling four-wheel drive vehicles - also known in the States as sports utility vehicles or SUVs - are to be included in the legislation. Until now SUV manufacturers have successfully avoided legislation by defining their vehicles as trucks rather than cars.

The new bill - passed by just one vote after a fierce battle with car industry lobbyists - is a huge and unexpected victory for the environment movement. "California is leading the nation and the world and showing that we can address our environmental problems and keep our economy strong," said Sierra Club president Carl Pope. "We can and we must do this."

Various polls show that Californians are in favour of the legislation. According to a poll by the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California, 81 per cent of state residents support it. California - which accounts for 10 per cent of the US car market - ranks second in the United States, behind Texas, as the most polluted city. Most of California's CO2 emissions derives from transport and almost 40 per cent from passenger vehicles.

Almost 40% of carbon dioxide emissionsin California comes from passenger vehicles.© US Environmental Protection Agency However, it is likely that the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers will mount a legal challenge to the bill. The car industry argues that the standards will impose extra production costs, raise prices for consumers and force people to buy smaller cars. Manufacturers are also concerned that the bill will gain de facto acceptance across the United States and the rest of the world. As Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance, put it: "You can't make one car for California and another for Washington DC."

Proponents of the bill argue, however, that California's history of pioneering legislation led to the introduction of air bags, catalytic converters and unleaded petrol - all of which improved economic efficiency for both producers and consumers. California's environmental spirit has already shown itself in the development of electric and hybrid vehicles. Only recently, Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler announced plans to produce low CO2 emissions, fuel-efficient hybrid four-wheel-drive vehicles(SUVs), and other cars, within the next few years.

According to Governor Gray Davis, the new legislation "is based four-square on sound science. Global warming is no longer a theory. It's an urgent reality." The California Governor's remarks stand in stark contrast to the attitude of the Bush administration which refuses to sign the Kyoto treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Related link:

Californian Law will Limit CO2 Emissions from Cars