Washington State to Follow California on Auto CO2 Emissions

Published July 1, 2005

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) signed legislation on May 6 that largely mirrors California’s controversial proposal to force mandatory reductions in automobile carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

If implemented, the new law will require a 30 percent cut in automotive CO2 emissions from all new cars and light trucks sold in the state by 2016. However, those emission reductions are contingent upon Oregon enacting similar legislation, and the law must also withstand expected legal challenges.

California Law Challenged

In September 2004, California became the first state in the nation to attempt to limit automotive greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation, A.B. 1493, prompted a federal lawsuit asserting the state had usurped the federal government’s exclusive right to regulate fuel economy.

In comments submitted to the California Air Resources Board (ARB), and later repeated in its federal suit, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) noted, “Controls on CO2 emissions from motor vehicles when measured on a per-mile basis are functionally the same as motor vehicle fuel economy standards.”

As such, AAM observed, the California legislation is “an attempt to regulate motor vehicle fuel economy, which is the responsibility of the national government under federal law. Motor vehicle fuel economy is currently regulated in California and nationwide by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”), under a federal statute that also establishes controls at the ‘maximum feasible’ levels.”

Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) Senior Fellow Iain Murray pointed out that CO2 emission mandates threaten the safety of drivers and passengers. “The trouble is that the most cost-effective way to reduce automotive CO2 emissions is to reduce the size of the car, which makes them less safe. The National Academies have confirmed that the downsizing of cars since the 1970s has resulted in 2,000 extra deaths on the road each year. Washington state drivers, police, and hospitals should be worried about this.”

“The regulation could result in hundreds of additional deaths on California’s roads,” noted AAM in its comments to ARB.

“The proposed rules would also add substantially to the costs of purchasing a new vehicle and would reduce the variety of different vehicle models that are currently available in California,” noted AAM. “The proposed rules would cost California motor vehicle purchasers roughly $14 billion by 2016 and substantially reduce employment in the automobile industry in California.”

California’s ARB conceded its proposed restrictions would add at least $1,000 to the price of each new vehicle. AAM and industry analysts predict the additional price will be closer to $3,000.

Logic of Cuts Questioned

“We think [the Washington measure] will be detrimental,” said AAM’s Eloy Garcia, as reported in the April 14 Greenwire. “Detrimental in terms of vehicles that are going to be available to Washington consumers and the cost that those vehicles will be available at.”

“With Washington air already meeting federal air-quality standards,” observed the Seattle Times on April 14, opponents of the legislation “questioned the need for regulations that could raise the cost of a new vehicle, drive vehicle shoppers to other states, or reduce the availability of popular SUV’s and trucks.”

“This is the Kyoto treaty come to Washington state,” protested Senator Val Stevens (R-Arlington) in the Seattle Times article, referring to the proposed treaty that was defeated 95-0 in the U.S. Senate. “This is an attempt to turn Washington state into another California.”

Added CEI’s Murray, “What purpose will the legislation serve? It won’t slow the increase in global temperature in any meaningful way. This is gesture politics, but life-endangering gesture politics.”

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