Calif. Wants Nations Strictest Emissions Rules

by : Correy Putton

California state officials demanded federal permission Tuesday to impose the nation's strictest controls on tailpipe emissions. This move would force automakers to spend billions to bring their vehicle fleets to 40 miles per gallon on average within the next decade.

California adopted a requirement in 2004 that would force automakers to decrease CO2 emissions from autos starting September next year. Eleven states have adopted its regulations, including Maryland, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. But a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency is necessary in order to enforce the new regulations.

The EPA held the first of two hearings on the issue Tuesday at a government office in Arlington. "This is more important than any issue that EPA's going to have to face," California Attorney General Jerry Brown told regulators. Robert Sawyer, the chairman of the California Air Resources Board, said in an interview that half-dozen additional states were likely to adopt California's regulation if the EPA grants the waiver.

Since 2005, when California sought the waiver, the EPA has taken no action. The hearings were set after the Supreme Court ruled in April that the EPA has authority to regulate greenhouse gases and tailpipe emissions as an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

Automakers said that the new regulations would cost billions at the same time do little to improve the world's environment because other countries will continue to pollute. "A patchwork of state-level fuel economy regulations as is now proposed by California is not just unnecessary but actually counterproductive," said Steven Douglas, the director of environmental affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group that represents major automakers like the General Motors Corp., Toyota Motor Co., Ford Motor Co., and the DaimlerChrysler AG.

California officials stressed that in 40 years since it was vested independent regulatory authority under an exemption to the Clean Air Act, the EPA has never turned down a waiver request, approving more than 50. This is the newest episode in the state's battle with the auto industry.

Last year, California filed suit against the six largest automakers worldwide, saying their vehicles were a public nuisance and harmful to the environment. Also, California said that its tourism and wine industries are at risk due to climate change and that melting snow in the Sierra Nevadas could result in flooding. Automakers, on the other hand, are fighting the California regulations. By far, they have filed three federal suits challenging the regulations in California, Vermont and Rhode Island. Auto suppliers like the are also affected by the emission standards battle.

Separately, Congress is considering a series of proposals to significantly raise the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE). The Senate is expected to tackle the issue in early June. "We're working very hard, and I hope that we will," U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. said. Levin said earlier this month a drastic fuel economy proposal could bankrupt the Chrysler Group, given its heavy reliance on light trucks.