On January 12, New Jersey Governor James McGreevey (D) signed legislation, passed earlier that day by both houses of the state legislature, applying California’s greenhouse gas emission standards to vehicles sold in the state.
Federal law requires states to adopt either the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s vehicle emission standards or California’s more stringent standards. The California standards have been rejected across the country, although a handful of Northeastern states–Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont–have adopted them.
New Jersey’s new law will require automakers to sell 40,000 gas-electric hybrid vehicles and 128,000 low-emission vehicles by 2009. Automakers must also market zero-emission vehicles by 2012, even though the technology does not currently exist to make such vehicles feasible. Legislators are counting on hydrogen technology to make significant advances by then.
“We’re building a critical mass of clean cars in the Northeast as we challenge automakers to develop new vehicles for our market,” said Bradley Campbell, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. “This will demonstrate to leaders in Washington that a tougher standard is achievable without compromising the economy or consumer choices.”
Campbell did not explain how dictating the composition of the state’s future automobile market preserved or expanded “consumer choices.” Nor did he explain how mandating the adoption of expensive technology would not “compromise the economy.” Currently, low-emission vehicles, such as the Honda Civic hybrid, are 50 percent more expensive than their gas-powered counterparts.
“I never saw a cost that didn’t get passed on to the consumer,” said Assemblyman Richard Merkt (R-Morris). “That’s the way it goes. We’re going to mess up one of the most important industries in the state because we don’t know what we’re doing.”
The New Jersey Chamber of Commerce warned the measure would impose costs on business without resulting in improved air quality. “Clean air is something everyone can support,” wrote Michael Egenton, the group’s assistant vice president for government relations. “But costs and benefits must be included in every policy decision. In the case of the California Car legislation the cost and benefits just don’t add up.”
Joseph Bast, president of The Heartland Institute and publisher of Environment & Climate News, agreed. In a January letter to Egenton, he wrote, “adoption of the Clean Cars Act by New Jersey would have none of the beneficial effects claimed by environmental advocates. Federal car and truck emission standards are already as strict as California standards,” he explained, “except for the [zero-emission vehicle] requirements, which would probably increase rather than reduce total fleet emissions by slowing down fleet turn-over.”
“This legislation is unnecessary, because today’s cars are already 99 percent cleaner than their counterparts from the 1970s,” said Eron Shosteck, director of communications for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry trade group. “This bill would be all pocketbook pain, with no environmental gain.”
“This new law is an example of the mischief that can occur in the ‘lame duck’ session of a legislature,” observed Gregg M. Edwards, president of the Center for Policy Research of New Jersey, a think tank that focuses on New Jersey issues. “It also is another instance of the New Jersey legislature’s alarming inclination to mandate the use of technology that does not yet exist. This law is likely to accomplish nothing more than making local car dealers very anxious about the future of their businesses.”
James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].
For more information …
Heartland Institute President Joseph L. Bast’s January 6, 2004 letter to the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce is available online at http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=14194.