Time to (finally) de-guzzle our cars?


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Californians will get the last word in a trio of public hearings that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation launch this week over whether and how to slash the fuel appetite of the nation’s car fleet.

In the wake of President Obama’s May 19 accord with California regulators, U.S. automakers, the United Autoworkers and environmental groups, the federal agencies will listen to public comments in Detroit today, in New York on Friday and in Los Angeles on Tuesday.


Vehicles covered by the proposed rules account for 40% of U.S. fuel consumption and about 20% of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, a colorless, odorless gas that is trapping heat in the atmosphere and disrupting the climate. The new standards would increase fuel efficiency by 5%, reducing U.S. oil consumption by 1.8 billion barrels over the lifetime of the vehicles sold from 2012 to 2016. They would would slash carbon dioxide emissions from passenger vehicles by 21% by 2030.

It was California’s first-in-the-nation 2002 law requiring automakers to slash greenhouse gases that got the ball rolling. After lawsuits from automakers and years of push-back from the Bush administration, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 ruled that EPA had the right to regulate carbon emissions from vehicles. Lower courts upheld California’s right to set its own greenhouse gas standards for cars, which had been adopted by more than a dozen other states.’California’s leadership paved the way for the national standards,’ said David Doniger, climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

According to the EPA, the fuel economy rules now under consideration can be met with existing technology.

But even with the Obama administration’s agreement, the state is forging ahead with additional rules to meet the state’s 2006 landmark global warming law. The so-called ‘Cool Car’ regulations passed in June would require automakers to reformulate paints and glaze windows to cut solar energy entering a vehicle by 45% by 2014 and 60% by 2016. The California Air Resources Board says the rule will eliminate 700,000 metric tons of CO2 by 2020.

Last week, the Assn. of Automobile Manufacturers, representing Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai and other foreign manufacturers, released a letter objecting to the Cool Car rules, saying that they are not ‘consistent’ with the proposed federal fuel economy standards.

-- Margot Roosevelt