The California Air Resources Board yesterday approved landmark regulation to tackle global warming by forcing cuts in carbon dioxide exhaust from passenger cars and trucks.
The unanimous vote, held after two days of hearings, was lauded by environmentalists as a historic moment.
But the board's action is almost certain to trigger a lawsuit from automakers, who accuse California of using the threat of global warming to force new gasoline mileage standards on the country.
The decision may also lead to a political battle between Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has pledged to support the tougher rules, and the federal government over the power to regulate motor vehicles. "We cannot afford to wait until all the evidence is in (on global warming)," said Alan C. Lloyd, the board's chairman. "We sent letters to all the auto companies in the world," asking for cooperation, he added. "The response, the silence, was deafening."
Auto industry representatives who attended the hearing yesterday filed out silently, and deferred comment to industry groups.
"The fact is that this will not do anything about global warming," said Gloria Berquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry trade group representing nine major car companies. "But it will be very costly for California consumers."
The regulation requires automakers to begin cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from cars and light trucks starting in the 2009 model year. By 2016, companies would have to reduce the heat-trapping gases from the tailpipes of all cars and light trucks by an average of 29 percent.
Virtually the only way to accomplish that task is to improve mileage through existing technology such as continuously variable transmissions that automatically seek the most efficient gear, and engines that shut off a cylinder when it is not needed. Those enhancements could add about $1,000 to the price of a new vehicle, state officials estimate. Auto industry representatives said the cost is closer to $3,000.
State officials said consumers would recoup some of the added expense over time, through better gas mileage. However, automakers said it would take more than a dozen years to recover those costs at the pump.
The rule is expected to have little effect on global warming, because California is responsible for less than 1 percent of the world's heat-trapping gases, and only about one-third of those come from passenger vehicles. But other states, and possibly other countries, are expected to follow California's lead, creating a significant cumulative impact.
While California represents only about 11 percent of the national car market, the states that have indicated support for the global warming rule, which include New York and Connecticut, buy more than 25 percent of all cars sold in the country. If enough states follow California's lead, some experts said auto manufacturers will make changes to cars sold everywhere, because it would be more economical.