California Governor Gray Davis
Beleaguered by California's financial crisis, a looming re-election campaign and woes related to the state's energy debts, Governor Gray Davis signed AB 1493 into law, setting in motion what is sure to spark yet another tug-of-war with carmakers.

California's Line in the Sand

A look at California's new greenhouse gas law.

By Bill Moore

It's called AB 1493 and it is now the law. It's also the biggest thorn in the side of the automobile industry since California's ZEV mandate was passed in 1990.

EV World decided to take a closer look at the new law, which seeks to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases from noncommercial motor vehicles sold in the state of California starting with the 2009 model year, a mere six years away. These gases, the most significant of which is carbon dioxide, are considered the prime culprits in global warming.

As the law spells out in some detail, Californian's have need for concern.

One example spelled out in the law is barely visible on the horizon east of the state capitol in Sacramento. This stony spin that is the Sierra Nevada mountain range is not only a back packer and skier's paradise but also a vast mountain redoubt of winter snow that supplies much of the state's 30 million inhabitants with fresh water.

Global warming, the bill argues, could reduce the amount of water flowing off the mountains in Spring with enormous environmental and economic consequences.

The bill reads, " Global warming would impose on California, in particular, compelling and extraordinary impacts including:

  1. Potential reductions in the state's water supply due to changes in the snowpack levels in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the timing of spring runoff.
  2. Adverse health impacts from increases in air pollution that would be caused by higher temperatures.
  3. Adverse impacts upon agriculture and food production caused by projected changes in the amount and consistency of water supplies and significant increases in pestilence outbreaks.
  4. Projected doubling of catastrophic wildfires due to faster and more intense burning associated with drying vegetation.
  5. Potential damage to the state's extensive coastline and ocean ecosystems due to the increase in storms and significant rise in sea level.
  6. Significant impacts to consumers, businesses, and the economy of the state due to increased costs of food and water, energy, insurance, and additional environmental losses and demands upon the public health infrastructure.

Critics can hardly blame the law for fear-mongering considering most of what the bill notes as the anticipated effects of global warming are already happening in the state, and elsewhere across the US and around the world.

What makes the law such a pioneering piece of legislation is the formal acknowledgement of the problem of global warming and the role so-called "greenhouse gases" play in it, especially those generated by motor vehicles.

The bill states that forty percent of all GHG emissions generated in California come from private light duty cars and trucks. As a result, the law was enacted to begin to address this problem essentially through technological fixes and not social ones, which is perhaps the law's greatest weakness or strength, depending on your political philosophy.

AB 1943 directs the State Air Resources Board to develop a set of GHG emissions standards using the 2000 automotive model year as the baseline. It also directs the identification, tabulation and publication of a statewide greenhouse gases inventory. GHG reduction goals would be based on fleet averages.

ARB has until January 1, 2005 to formulate a body of regulatory recommendations and emission reduction goals that must meet some pretty stringent requirements. Here's the framework within which ARB must work:

The last caveat is particularly interesting because it leaves the door open for federally-mandated greenhouse gas regulations should they be enacted, though the bill appears to be intentionally vague to when such a measure would take effect; prior to 2005, 2006 or 2009. In the game of political gamesmanship, it would almost seem that California is daring Congress to follow the Golden State's lead on this issue.

One other interesting provision is the "alternative methods of compliance" aspect of the law. It would seem to me that if I were a car company concerned about both my profits and keeping California happy, I would take a long hard look at also going into the alternative energy business.

As I read the law, carmakers can get credit for greenhouse gas reductions in ways other than those directly related to tail pipe emissions from their products. I argued in an editorial last year that carmakers should be allowed to sell as many SUVs, minivans and light trucks as they want, but that for every one they sold, they had to buy or produce an equivalent amount of renewable energy equal to the CO2 produced by their product.

A typical light passenger vehicle generates approximately 20 pounds of CO2 and other GHGs for every mile it's driven. That's 120 tons of CO2 a year for every car in America driven 12,000 annually.

One way to immediately impact a car's carbon dioxide emissions is to offset them with energy produced from wind, solar, geothermal or even tidal energy, with which California is richly blessed. Why couldn't carmakers put their mass manufacturing expertise to work producing and selling alternative energy systems on the same scale they do cars today?

ARB has until 2005 to come up with its recommendations and then the California legislature must review them taking into considering yet another laundry list of potential disqualifiers including not only the technical feasibility of the board's proposal, but also the potential impact on the state's economy.

ARB would have to demonstrate the impact of their proposals on:

Assuming the Air Resources Board can successfully navigate this gauntlet, not to mention the mine field carmakers are sure to sow in their way in the coming months, the law could take effect in January 2006 with compliance set to begin with the 2009model year.

The chorus of critics of the bill, led by the auto industry naturally, allege the bill will spell the end of the SUV and "freedom of choice." However, the bill specifically states that whatever ARB comes up with it cannot rely on vehicle weight reduction strategies or price mechanisms that would reduce vehicle choice.

So, it would seem that ARB is confronted with as much of a challenge to write the regs as carmakers are to meet them. It is also clear that the law's intent is to let the auto industry decide what technologies are best suited to meet ARB's goals, once they are defined.

While the auto industry would like to see this law, as well as the ZEV mandate, go the way of the Dodo, the world in the 21st century is now different from the world in the late 20th. The fact that such a measure could be passed is a clear indication that attitudes are changing about global warming, corporate irresponsibility and the consequences of our dependence on fossil fuels. The events of September 11, 2001 and since then only underscore the fact that we live in an increasingly interconnected world.

As the respected Conference Board pointed out recently, whether you believe global warming exists or that man-made CO2 has a role in it, the perception of its existence is now a reality and businesses need to starting living with it and planning accordingly. AB 1493 may be the sire of many similar, perhaps even more draconian measures to come, if we fail to act in a prudent and timely fashion.

Times Article Viewed: 4222
Published: 27-Jul-2002


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