California greenhouse gas bill AB 1058 advances
- Published Saturday, March 30, 2002, in the Sacramento Bee
Stepping on the Gas
A bill to curb car greenhouse emissions moves right along
By Chris Bowman
Bee Staff Writer
California car dealers call the bill "utopian." Even its sponsor is
amazed at how far the proposal to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions
from cars has advanced in the Legislature.
It is, after all, quite a jump to go from regulating automotive
exhausts harmful to California residents to controlling tailpipe
gases that contribute marginally to global climate change.
And it's a quantum leap to count on other states -- let alone other
nations -- to follow California's lead, said Peter Welch, lobbyist
for the California Motor Car Dealers Association, who calls the
bill "well-intended and utopian in design."
But the bill, AB 1058 by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills,
moved out of the Assembly on a party-line vote in late January and
heads to its first hearing in the Democrat-controlled Senate on
Monday before the Committee on Environmental Quality.
The Davis administration said it is closely monitoring the bill's
progress. "We're absolutely interested in the issue, and we'd like to
see a consensus reached so the administration can evaluate it and
take a position," said William Rukeyser, spokesman for Winston
Hickox, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency.
If the bill becomes law, California would be the first state to
regulate vehicle exhaust linked to global climate change.
Many state and federal regulations that apply to vehicles only target
pollutants that have been shown to cause direct harm to people. Those
pollutants include ozone, the main ingredient of smog that inflames
airways and impairs breathing, and particles such as diesel soot,
which has been shown to cause cancer and heart problems.
By contrast, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases -- mainly
water vapor, nitrous oxide and methane -- are not hazardous to
The increasing buildup of these gases in the atmosphere, however, can
affect Earth's temperature and lead to catastrophic changes in sea
levels, water supplies, crop production, disease and wildfires.
Like the glass panels of a greenhouse, the gases trap some of the
sun's radiation reflected by Earth, raising the atmospheric
Most scientists say the combustion of fossil fuels from vehicles,
power plants and other human activities in the last few hundreds
years is accelerating the rate of climate change.
The auto industry's main objection to the greenhouse-gas bill is that
it doesn't spell out how the state would control the climate-altering
gases, primarily carbon dioxide.
"We are stuck here trying to defend ourselves against we don't know
what," said Maureen O'Haren, lobbyist for the Alliance of Automobile
Manufacturers, which is composed of 13 car and light-truck
manufacturers. "We have no idea what it will do, how much it will
cost nor what it will mean to consumers."
The bill's architects say they intentionally left the details open to
give automakers and Davis administration officials the flexibility
they say they want in crafting and enforcing the rules.
The legislation only says that by Jan. 1, 2005, the state Air
Resources Board "shall develop and adopt regulations that achieve the
maximum feasible and cost-effective reduction of greenhouse-gas
emissions" from passenger cars and light-duty trucks -- nearly 20
To give industry time to adjust, the regulations would not take
effect before Jan. 1, 2006, and would not apply to new vehicles until
the 2008 model year.
Regulations for new models would be expressed in "fleet average
emission standards," letting automakers decide how to achieve the
limits among the different vehicle types. Commercial vehicles would
Pavley also has added several amendments to her bill in an attempt to
satisfy the auto industry's concern that the regulations would
discriminate against the higher-polluting -- but profitable and
popular -- sport-utility vehicles, beefy pickups and minivans.
But the industry has not been appeased.
Welch, the lobbyist for car dealers, said the supporters' true
objective is to force auto manufacturers to increase fuel economy.
The debate over the greenhouse-gas bill, he contends, boils down to a
choice between cutting a fraction of the world's climate-changing
gases and satisfying consumers' appetites for roomy minivans, pickups
"Bottom line: Californians, like other Americans, overwhelmingly
prefer larger, heavier models that offer the size, weight and other
performance and safety attributes," Welch said.
Nevertheless, California has fared better than most states in cutting
greenhouse-gas emissions mainly because industry and power plants
have shifted from petroleum-based fuels and coal to natural gas,
which contains less carbon, said Terry Surles, head of research and
development at the California Energy Commission.
From 1990 through 1999, carbon dioxide emissions increased 3 percent
to 4 percent compared with a national average of 12 percent, said
Surles, who has just completed a study examining California's
contribution to global warming.
Vehicles account for nearly 60 percent of the increase in California,
the study says.
If successful, promoters of the greenhouse-gas bill say they plan to
lobby other states to follow California just as they have on other
air-pollution fronts, such as the mandates for ultralow polluting and
Though perceived by some as environmentalism run amok, the California
legislation has gained the support of some business entities and
"The reason why it has done so well is because of the broad support
behind the bill," said Christine Corwin, a lobbyist for Bluewater
Network, a nonprofit environmental group that sponsored the proposal.
Robert Epstein, who heads a newly formed group of more than 80
venture capitalists and business leaders in California called
Environmental Entrepreneurs, said their concerns are as much economic
"If you want a reliable supply of water and energy, having a stable
climate is an issue," said Epstein, 49, who has started computer
software and hardware companies.
Concerns over diminishing water supplies and snowpacks and increased
wildfires have drawn endorsements for the bill from the California
Ski Industry Association, California Professional Firefighters and
three major water utilities in the Bay Area. City councils in San
Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego, among others, also
The Bee's Chris Bowman can be reached at (916) 321-1069 or