California Will Become Clean Energy Leader Despite EPA Ruling

With the support of federal courts, California will eventually be allowed to move forward with its landmark vehicle-emissions standards for greenhouse gases.

Published: 26-Dec-2007

Despite the unanimous recommendation of legal and technical staff at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Administrator Stephen Johnson has denied California's request for a waiver to implement its "cleaner cars" law of 2002.

This misguided decision not only fails to recognize how implementing this innovative policy would dramatically reduce greenhouse gases in California, it also fails to take into account how adopting this standard would stimulate technology innovation that would help create a zero-emission-vehicle industry in our state.

According to the Congressional Research Service, "California has served as a laboratory for demonstrating cutting-edge emission-control technologies, which once tested there, are adopted in a similar fashion at the national level."

From 1947, when California established the Los Angeles Air Control District - the first air pollution agency in the United States - to the passage of our Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) in 2006, California has been a national leader in policy innovation to address critical environmental and energy needs. As a result of appliance and building standards and other policy reforms to promote energy efficiency - which were first passed in California and later adopted by the federal government - Californians saved $56 billion on energy from 1977 to 2003. And they are expected to save an additional $23 billion by 2013 - billions of dollars consumers spend to grow oureconomy.

Over 40 percent of California's greenhouse-gas emissions are generated by the transportation sector. The cleaner-cars law would reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2012 and 30 percent by 2016 by setting emission standards for cars and light trucks. The state's Climate Action Team estimates that the implementation of the law would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 million metric tons by 2020 - an essential down payment to the 25 percent reduction mandated by AB 32.

By setting standards without mandating specific technologies, the law would stimulate the creativity of California's entrepreneurs in designing and producing more fuel-efficient vehicles that produce fewer emissions. This can be a "win-win" outcome: We can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while helping to create a new zero-emission-vehicle industry in California. It also will generate new high-wage jobs.

Silicon Valley venture capitalists are already investing millions of dollars in new battery technologies, fuel cells and hybrid systems. In 2006, California received 25 percent of total share of U.S. patents in battery technology. The purchase of hybrid, electric and alternative-fuel vehicles in California increased by 18 times from 2000 to 2005, while the growth in total vehicles sold remained relatively unchanged.

Now that the Bush administration has chosen to deny California's right to enact its own emissions standards - the first time it's said "no" in the 40-year history of the Clean Air Act - the matter must be settled in court, a costly and in this case extremely redundant process.

Federal courts have supported the state's right to fight pollution. The EPA will lose in court and California will eventually be allowed to move forward with its landmark vehicle-emissions standards for greenhouse gases. And once enacted, the law will unleash the power of innovation to design and produce vehicles that meet the standard.

F. NOEL PERRY is founder and president of Next 10, a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Palo Alto that addresses the challenges facing California over the next decade and beyond. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.

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