California's problem -- a lot of gas
Debra J. Saunders
7/24/2002 12:00:00 AM - Debra J. Saunders
California Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, says that
her bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for cars sold here will have
California leading the world in the fight against global warming. Carmakers
and conservatives say the bill will cost lives and interfere with
Californians' goddess-given right to drive SUVs. Both sides probably are
wrong. Still, Gov. Gray Davis had good reason to sign AB1493 Monday.
On the politics, the bill is a no-loser. Despite all the
accolades from the national press, the bill itself doesn't include tough new
regulations. It passes the buck to the Air Resources Board to write new
rules by 2005. So, Davis gets kudos for signing a bill with tough new
regulations, even though it doesn't include any regulations at all.
And there's no real downside. Consumers won't see their buying
opportunities limited until 2009 model cars are out. By then, Davis will
have had a chance to run for re-election and, if he wins, the White House.
Meanwhile, AB1493 will provide beaucoup shakedown opportunities
for Sacramento pols. After all, the measure requires that the air board
write its new regs by 2005 -- then authorizes the Legislature to modify the
new rules. It'll be open season on the checkbooks of car dealers and
On a policy level, the bill has its positive and negative sides.
On the plus side, AB1493 might prompt Washington to increase
federal car fuel efficiency standards so that the vehicles people drive use
less gas; despite technological advances, Washington has the same standards
set in 1988.
Forget global warming, since -- despite all the hype -- there is
reason to question whether it is human-induced. Better gas mileage should
reduce unhealthy air pollution, and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil.
Also, since the legislation gives car makers credit for
improvements they make today, perhaps one thinking automaker will see the
wisdom in manufacturing upscale cars that aren't the size of young adult
On the downside, since the bill targets greenhouse gases --
carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and hydrofluorcarbons -- the new regs
aren't likely to do much about bad air quality in California basins and the
Bay Area. Peter Miller of the Natural Resources Defense Council, however,
does see positive "indirect effects" on air quality from nitrous oxide
Of course, much depends on the air board's formula -- and once
again, despite the flurry of self-congratulation, no one knows what it will
Besides, California is the karma state; and it's not good karma
to tout global warming from a gas-guzzling machine.
Too many Californians happily bash President Bush for not doing
enough about global warming -- while they happily tool around town in their
SUVs. (According to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, 1 million of
the 2.1 million new vehicle purchases in California in 2000 were light
trucks or SUVs.)
No wonder the rest of the country has been known to sneer at
California -- the freewheeling state that prides itself on being so good and
so green, while it drives so gassy.
It's always someone else who isn't doing enough, never
California. And if Californians aren't swearing off big wheels to live true
to their big green ideas, well, it's someone else's fault for not passing a
law forcing them to do so.
So now there's a law.