First 100 Days: Obama’s first climate change target
— Mary D. Nichols is Chairman of the California Air Resources Board, the lead agency for implementing California’s landmark climate change law, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The views expressed are her own. —
After eight years of inaction on climate change by the federal government, we can now look forward to the Obama administration tackling global warming head on. With not a minute to lose, Lisa Jackson, the soon-to-be new head of the EPA, should move quickly to capitalize on the momentum of states that have so far been the leaders in fighting global warming. There is no better place to start than by establishing a national greenhouse gas emission standard for automobiles based on California’s landmark clean car law.
California has always been a pioneer in setting tough automobile emission standards. Our regulations paved the way for lead-free gas, the catalytic converter, and many other innovations that were later adopted as the national standard. As a result, we have eliminated 99 percent of harmful pollution pouring out of autos today compared to a 1960s era car, leading to clearer skies and cleaner air in our cities.
In 2002, California continued its track record of pioneering environmental legislation when it passed a law that directly addressed greenhouse gas emissions from cars. Personal vehicles produce 20 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gases, and so are increasingly being addressed by governments that are serious about averting catastrophic climate change. Thirteen other states have formally adopted and three states are considering adoption of California’s cost-effective and technologically doable program.
Indeed, the motivation is not only environmental – owners of these cars will save thousands of dollars over the vehicle’s life because cars that meet the standard are also likely to be more fuel efficient.
Together with California, these 16 states constitute almost half the country’s new vehicle sales, creating a huge market for the best that Detroit has to offer.
Despite these benefits, the EPA blocked California from enforcing its greenhouse gas emission standards for cars. It also delayed responding to the Supreme Court, which required that the EPA consider using the federal Clean Air Act to create a program similar to California’s program to reduce emissions from all the nation’s vehicles. Just last month, the outgoing administration failed to carry through on its promise to publish new CAFE rules – national fuel economy standards – as required by Congress.
The new Obama Administration should use this opportunity to set a new foundation for American energy and climate security. Soon-to-be Administrator Jackson should immediately follow through with President Obama’s promise to allow California’s regulations to come into force. She should also begin the process to create a national greenhouse gas standard for cars based on California’s approach – a 30 percent reduction by model year 2016 – and establishing even greater reductions in the future.
At the same time, the Obama Administration should direct the Department of Transportation to fix its flawed CAFE rules to be compatible with new climate change needs. It also needs to address a regulatory process so distorted that fuel economy standards are based on the technology of the “least capable manufacturer,” holding our nation’s energy security hostage to the lowest common denominator. Instead, Obama should direct DOT to work in concert with EPA to create standards that work for both fuel economy and the reduction of greenhouse gases.
Coordinating these two approaches will also provide automobile manufacturers with THE stable set of national policies they have been calling for. This strong national program will also send a clear signal to Detroit to fire their lawyers who have been wastefully battling California’s regulation and hire the engineers who will build the cars consumers want and that will support the future success of America’s auto industry in a global market.
If we’re going to wring the carbon out of our economy, we will need the coordinated actions of government agencies across all sectors and additional investments for rapid economic recovery under a comprehensive national climate change framework. That will take time to develop, and some careful planning. In the meantime, the EPA can immediately draw upon the experience of states like California and its leadership under Governor Schwarzenegger to use its existing authority under the Clean Air Act and take effective and early action against climate change.
By acting now, the EPA will show the world that the United States is finally taking its place among the community of nations to address the pressing challenge of, in the words of our new president, a planet in peril. California, and many other states, stand ready to help.