Let States Set Tougher Fuel Economy Rules

California's vehicle emission target might not be the pipe dream it seems to be but simply the latest sign that the rest of the country is getting ready to line up behind California one more time.

Published: 27-Dec-2007

For 40 years California had been granted every Clean Air Act waiver it had requested from the Environmental Protection Agency — waivers that had allowed the state to demand more stringent regulations than those required under the federal Clean Air Act — but last week the EPA turned down the state's request to demand greater fuel-efficiency standards than those called for by the federal government.

In effect, the denial also derailed the plans of nearly 20 other states that had passed or were working to pass similar regulations, New Jersey among them.

The decision has been roundly derided by environmentalists and certain legal scholars; the head of the EPA is reported to have gone against the advice of the agency's experts and its lawyers in denying the request. Congress already has announced that it is looking into the denial.

President Bush said the EPA acted as it did because the nation recently has passed federal rules that will achieve California's fuel-efficiency targets — 35 mpg — by 2020, four years after California's proposed date. And the agency believes a national standard is more equitable and less confusing than 50 state standards.

There is something to Bush's argument and certainly the passage of new federal efficiency standards is welcome; still, this would hardly have been a patchwork. The state's that had signed on to the waiver have nearly half of the nation's automobiles, which makes them a sizable and consistent market.

Besides, the nation's automobile industry shows positive signs of moving toward cleaner cars on its own. General Motors recently has been promising to deliver a truly revolutionary electric hybrid in the not too distant future and is actively marketing itself as a green car company, including advertising how many models it has that go 30 mpg or more. (The answer is seven.)

In other words, California's 35 mpg target might not be the pipe dream it seems to be but simply the latest sign that the rest of the country is getting ready to line up behind California one more time.

California and others have announced they intend to sue. While the reaction is understandable, any lawsuit would likely be years in the courts. The states might be better off waiting for the election and, almost regardless of who wins, what is almost certain to be a more sympathetic ear.

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