After the California Air Resources Board sent a letter last week pressuring new EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to accept the state's aggressive emissions reduction program - denied by the Bush administration three years ago - President Obama today directed the agency to accept it.
California - along with 13 other states including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, and Vermont - want automakers to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2016. The air board's chairman Mary Nichols called the former EPA administrator's denial "flawed, factually and legally, in fundamental ways."
According to the Los Angeles Times, this translates into a passenger fleet average of 42 miles per gallon by 2020, seven more than the current Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements passed by Congress in 2007. Other estimates, most notably from Michigan attorney general Mike Cox, peg the number at 49 miles per gallon.
"If California and a handful of other states are allowed to dictate environmental policy for the entire country on a state-by-state basis and not a uniform basis, our nation's economy will become further weakened," said Cox in a Friday press release.
Both domestic and foreign automakers begrudgingly accepted the 2007 regulations but continue to argue against tougher standards, noting that high retooling costs and current product cycles - which typically span three to four years - stand in the way. The future could be especially troubling for low-volume manufacturers like Porsche, which are dependent entirely on high-performance cars.
"What we need is certainty and consistency, not confusion and chaos," said Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, on NPR this morning. "And I think we're all concerned that this would create chaos not only for consumers, but also for dealers and for manufacturers."
No doubt the strictest in the nation, California's emissions regulations have been a thorn in the industry's side since 1966, when the state required "bolt-on pollution controls" for new model cars. Historically, the tough requirements on carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate emissions forced automakers to sell California-specific models of the same car. Only recently have diesel-powered cars like the Mercedes-Benz BlueTec and Volkswagen TDI models - equipped with expensive emissions controls - been allowed for sale in the state.
But California's persistence for tougher federal air laws has paid off. Most automakers design vehicles to meet emissions in all states, and other California initiatives - such as the ban on MTBE gasoline additives and the march toward ultra-low sulfur diesel - have trickled nationwide.
This showdown isn't going anywhere.
The author is solely responsible for the content.