State-by-state rules best for US carbon from cars?

January 26, 2009

President Barack Obama set in motion a process on Monday that may eventually allow California and other states to set tougher greenhouse gas pollution and efficiency standards on cars than those mandated by the federal government. 

 Obama’s move sends a signal to the world that the United States is beginning to join the rest of the developed countries to act on emissions blamed for warming the planet.

But some say allowing the states to take control of car emissions could lead to complications within the auto industry by forcing them make two sets of cars.  Consumers in California and as many as 18 other states would have to buy one set of cars built according to a set of guidelines and regulations and the other states would have another set of cars that are built differently.

Certainly U.S. car companies have fallen behind in making clean cars that consumers want and the federal government should push them to get on track. But are two sets of rules what the ailing car industry needs right now? 

Bill Bumpers, the director of the climate change practice at the law firm Baker Botts in Washington, D.C. doesn’t think so. “These are requirements that would be better off implemented on a national scale,” said Bumpers, who does not represent car companies.  He wonders if state-by-state regulations would add expenses for them to comply with the rules.

Many environmentalists have pushed for state-by-state regulation on emissions for exactly the reason that it could pressure companies to lobby for a federal solution rather than go through the headache of complying with a patchwork of regulations throughout the land.

“For a lot of industry players this is going to help them say let’s capitulate, let’s go to Congress, let’s get a comprehensive climate regulatory regime on a national scale,” said Bumpers. 

As a sign that the car companies want emissions to be controlled by the government, the Big Three joined earlier this month with other big corporations in lobbying Congress to pass federal economy-wide greenhouse gas regulations.

What do you think, is state-by-state best or should the country act as a whole?

(Photo by Kimberly White)


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State autonomy is one of the few political advantages of federalism. As there are many differences among the states regarding regulation of fuel emissions, letting the states take the initiative could be an instrument for gathering real world evidence on the net effect of differente standards and rules. Several states have not yet even considered putting a cap on car vehicles GHG emissions. They could be influenced by the analysis of concrete experience of states with similar economic and transport features.

After a while, though, and a not a long one for that matter – 1 or 2 years – the Federal Government will necessarily have to established a common national minimum, to guide industry, even thoug allowing for states maxima to prevail at the local level. A Federal rule will be especially necessary to help de US meet is committments if and when it adheres to a post-Kyoto Protocol, a most likely outcome under president Obama.

Posted by Sergio Abranches | Report as abusive

There’s a history to these California waivers. With most if not all of the prior ones, the California standard simply become the new national standard when states representing a large enough portion of the population adopted it. With nearly half the country already signed on to the new California standard, it’s already obvious that the same thing will happen. The feds won’t need to do anything beyond approving the waiver.

Posted by Steve Bloom | Report as abusive

We should have a single federal regulation that we use in all our “united” states. If we have each state setting their own rules, we will make it very difficult for our auto companies to comply because they could be concievably making several different models of cars just for the U.S. market. Along these lines, we should also have a single gasoline standard to make it easier on our refiners to meet demand.


Posted by Renewable Wire | Report as abusive