California Limits Greenhouse Emissions

Times Staff Writer

California air quality regulators today approved the world's first rule aimed at cutting vehicle emissions that contribute to global warming, a trailblazing decision that is likely to be opposed by the auto industry and Bush administration.

The California Air Resources Board adopted the regulation that will apply to new passenger cars, sports utility vehicles and pickup trucks sold in the 2009 model year. By 2012, the rules are expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks by an average of 22% and by 2016 to 30%.

But the necessary technology will also cost an average of $325 for each vehicle in 2012 and more than $1,000 by 2016.

"This landmark decision sets a course for California that is likely to be copied throughout the US and other countries," said board chairman Alan Lloyd in a statement.

California alone cannot reduce global warming. The state emits less than 1% of the heat-trapping gases — chiefly carbon dioxide — that many scientists believe are raising the planet's temperature. Only about a third of the state's emissions comes from cars. California makes up about 11% of the national automobile market.

However, state officials expect other states — and perhaps other countries — to follow their lead by passing car-exhaust restrictions, combining to make a collective dent in the global warming problem.

Several states, including New York and New Jersey, have indicated they plan to do just that, using a federal law that allows other states to adopt tougher air-quality rules if California does so first. Canadian officials are also studying California's regulation as a prototype for their own rule.

While hailed by environmentalists, the rule has been opposed by business groups and the auto industry, which have called it the biggest California boondoggle since the state in 1990 made the same companies invest millions of dollars in electric car technology that never panned out.

Auto industry officials say the state is using global warming as a fig leaf to force car makers to set new fuel economy standards, which only the federal government has the legal authority to do.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who promised to support the global warming rule during his election campaign, made it a litmus test recently when appointing five new members to the California Air Resources Board.

The technology needed to cut the heat-trapping gases — such as variable-speed transmissions that constantly shift to find the most efficient gear — is already in use in some cars, helping to improve fuel efficiency and overall performance. But it costs more.

State officials argue that although consumers will pay more up front, they will save money in the long run because the vehicles will get better gas mileage. Automakers call that questionable, noting that using the state's own calculations, it would take more than a dozen years of driving to recoup the extra cost.

California also faces a major hurdle in obtaining approval from the federal government to enact the global warming regulation.

The state must still apply for a waiver from the Clean Air Act to move forward with its own rules. To obtain the waiver, California must show a "compelling and extraordinary" reason that the state needs special rules — something easily demonstrated on smog but harder on an international problem such as global warming, skeptics note.

The Bush administration to date has chosen not to take action on global warming. President Bush promised during his 2000 election campaign to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. But he later changed his position, arguing that the regulations would harm the economy.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which must rule on California's waiver, ruled last year that carbon dioxide was not a pollutant, and thus could not be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Several states, including California, are challenging that ruling in federal court.

EPA officials have declined to comment on the state's global warming rule, saying they will wait until they receive the waiver request.

Times Staff Writer Miguel Bustillo contributed to this story.

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