Environment Forum

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

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.

California wastes no time pressing new EPA

California wasted no time asking incoming U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson to reconsider a request to let the state impose stiff targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

 The state’s top air quality regulator sent a letter to Jackson on Wednesday, the Obama administration’s first full day at work. Jackson hasn’t even been confirmed as the new EPA administrator yet, but California isn’t beating around the bush.

Stephen Johnson, the EPA administrator under former President Bush, drew the ire of California and more than a dozen other states in 2007 when he denied the state’s request for federal permission to impose tough new standards on auto emissions. 

Don’t rain on my electric car parade

Electric car organization Plug In America revved up the inaugural festivities this past weekend with a parade of 74 plug-in vehicles in Santa Monica, California, dubbing it the “greenest procession of its kind.”

The non-profit group first applied to ride in the Presidential inaugural parade in Washington, but was not chosen. Undeterred, it took the parade west, said spokeswoman Zan Dubin Scott.

“Today we congratulate President Barack Obama, who has called for one million plug-in cars by 2015,” Paul Scott, one of the group’s co-founders, said at the parade on Saturday, taking the moment to make a “plug” for more plug-ins by 2016. “With the audacity of hope and the confidence born of years driving these cars, we’re asking Obama to accelerate his plan and make it happen three years sooner, then to boost that number to ten million plug-ins by 2016.”

How much electricity do you use in a year?

It was a disarmingly simple question but, embarrassingly, I didn’t have a clue when first asked that 18 months ago. Even though I’d have to describe myself as a genuine tightwad when it comes to expenditures, I simply had no idea, strangely enough, about how much money my four-person household was spending on electricity — nor how much carbon dioxide was being produced.

Now, after a year of carefully tracking the daily use of electricity, I’ve discovered a bit about when and where power is being used and, in theory, saved — without much pain. It seemed like a no-brainer and it honestly was not hard to cut our consumption by 1,000 kilowatt hours in 2008 to 5,000 kWh — saving about 200 euros and 500 kg of CO2 in the process. There were only minor sacrifices: rigidly turning off “standby” switches and unused lights, pulling plugs on little-used appliances, putting in energy-efficient lightbulbs, using the washing machine sparingly and the dryer only rarely, and replacing an inefficient dishwasher with a low-energy model.

In the past year, we used as little as 4 kWh on some days (in the summer) and as much as 30 on others (in the winter) — although most days were in the 10-to-17 range. Annoyingly, the house “wasted” about 3 kWh per day when we were away on holiday — largely due to the refrigerator, which I’ll be emptying and turning off next time. The 2008 total of 5,000 kWh (which amounted to an electricity bill of about 1,000 euros) isn’t bad for four people (one rule of thumb I’ve seen is 1,500 kWh per person/year) but I’m convinced that usage could be even less (the benchmark of 1,000 kWh per person/year is considered “thrifty”).

New EPA chief ready to give California new car rules of its own?

Environmental Protection Agency chief-to-be Lisa Jackson said science would be her guide on policy – and that may mean California is in the driver’s seat on setting new global-warming-style regulations on cars. (Not to mention the nearly 20 other states ready to follow in its footsteps.)

Jackson said she would reconsider whether California should get a waiver from the EPA that would allow it to regulate carbon pollution from cars, the San Francisco Chronicle said. The Bush administration has said no to such a waiver – but Jackson said she would focus on the science.

“She said today ‘I’m going to do it’. I mean, she didn’t say that — but I don’t think the auto industry has any doubt,” Sierra Club chief Carl Pope said shortly after a Senate confirmation hearing for Jackson. “She didn’t have to signal that strongly.”

Obama in fuel efficiency driver’s seat

President Bush is pulling out of the race to set the next round of car fuel efficiency standards before his term in office ends. That means President-to-be Obama will decide how fast Detroit should be pushed toward a car and light-truck standard of at least 35 mpg. That’s the goal set by Congress for 2020, but the president gets to decide how fast to move in the phased implementation.

With Detroit drooping, Bush thinks a little breathing room is needed. Environmentalists, meanwhile, are eager for quick action by Obama. The Transportation Department has until April to finalize the 2011-2015 target.

(Picture: Reuters)

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