Pennsylvania Senate to Pull Plug on Emissions Plan

Published May 1, 2006

The Pennsylvania Senate on February 15 approved legislation that would block plans by Gov. Ed Rendell (D) to implement by 2007 California’s highly restrictive vehicle emission standards.

If also passed by the House, the legislation would set up a showdown with Rendell over whether federal emissions standards sufficiently protect air quality in the state. The bill, which had bipartisan support in the Senate, is currently under consideration in the House.

Federal Standards Supported

Under the Senate legislation, which passed by a veto-proof 34-13 vote, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) could not consider enacting California’s standards until at least 2010. In 2010, DEP could convene public hearings on the California standards in areas of the state where air quality fails to meet federal standards. If, after conducting the hearings, DEP sought to implement the California standards, it would be required to petition the Pennsylvania legislature to do so.

Until 2010, the state would continue to abide by federal emission standards. Only nine states, all on the West Coast or in the Northeast, have chosen to follow California’s lead and require more stringent auto emission standards than those set by the federal government.

Pennsylvania Different

“The federal standards are adopted by the vast majority of the states, so for auto makers to produce cars with the California specifications, it would cost more, and that cost would get passed down to consumers,” AAA motor club spokesman Brian Newbacher explained in a March 15 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report.

“As many legislators have pointed out, what’s good for California is not necessarily good for Pennsylvania,” Newbacher added.

Meeting the California standards would force Pennsylvania consumers to buy smaller cars and pay for expensive redesigning of automobile engines.

“It would add $3,000 to the cost of the typical vehicle with no identifiable health or environmental benefits,” said Eric Shosteck, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, for a March 1 Winston-Salem Journal article. That price tag was estimated by an independent research firm, which also found “pollution levels would be the same with or without the tougher regulations,” the article noted.

With the high per-vehicle cost of the California standards and evidence that pollutant emissions from automobiles are falling, Pennsylvania senators expressed concern that citizens would be getting very little return on their investment.

“This is fantastic news, to see the courageous senators in Pennsylvania taking a stand against costly environmental activist hype,” said Marlo Lewis, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “It would be easy to cave in to the pressure of the activists’ public relations campaign, but the citizens of Pennsylvania will unquestionably benefit from their Senate’s fortitude.”

NC Debate Heats Up

The California emissions debate, meanwhile, has reached a crescendo in North Carolina, where environmental activists are urging the legislature to adopt the California rules. A proposed bill to do so has yet to be considered by the state’s General Assembly.

Despite federal standards that already require a substantial reduction in a broad range of air pollutants during the next two decades, “At the federal level, we haven’t been getting much help in cleaning up the air,” asserted Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), quoted in the March 1 Winston-Salem Journal.

Rep. Nelson Cole (D-Rockingham) countered the California standards could backfire, with expensive new mandates inducing consumers to hold on to older, more polluting cars and delaying the purchase of new automobiles that are significantly less polluting than their current cars.

“The main problem with the California emission standards is they don’t take the most polluting vehicles off the road,” said Cole in an interview for this article. “Studies show that putting California emissions on North Carolina vehicles will raise prices by anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per vehicle. This will serve as a disincentive for citizens to replace the oldest, most polluting vehicles with newer, cleaner cars. We should first focus on encouraging citizens to replace the oldest, most polluting cars with newer vehicles.

“Taking the older cars off the road will likely solve most or all of our clean air concerns,” Cole noted. “The California emission standards should be adopted only as a last resort, if other, less-costly solutions unexpectedly fail.”

CA Standards May Be Unnecessary

Brock Nicholson, deputy director of the North Carolina Division of Air Quality, promised his department would research the costs and benefits of the California standard, but noted even without adopting such a standard, North Carolina cars are becoming cleaner-burning all the time.

“In effect, North Carolina could see some benefits of this without doing anything,” said Nicholson in the March 1 Winston-Salem Journal.

“Clean air expert Joel Schwartz of the American Enterprise Institute has convincingly that regulations already on the books are more than adequate to eliminate most air pollution by 2020,” said Lewis, “as older vehicles are replaced by newer vehicles that start out cleaner and stay cleaner longer.

“Paradoxically,” Lewis added, “the California rules could slow down this progress by pricing many middle-income households out of the market for new cars.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.