California Emissions Standards

Many years ago, former California Governor Gray Davis attempted to phase out the possible carcinogen MTBE from California gasoline. He encountered legal trouble when a Canadian firm sued to block California's MTBE regulations from going into effect. The basis of the suit was that because they manufactured MTBE, their profits would be hurt if California banned MTBE; under the rules of NAFTA, Canadian courts had jurisdiction to speak upon California laws. "Free trade"--in this as in other respects--is an Orwellian phrase that really meant a series of restrictions. MTBE seeped into our water supply for years as lawyers talked to each other.

Now both Democrats and Republicans in California have tried over the last year to implement a tougher emissions standard for cars sold in California. This is a rare case of bipartisan cooperation on an important issue.

However, the EPA has refused to allow California's new regulations to go into effect on the basis that auto emissions are a federal, not state, matter. And under the Bush administration, the EPA refuses to require higher auto emissions. When the regulatory authority refuses to act, can other agencies step into fill the gap? This issue is currently being legislated and litigated.

Lost in this problem is the important question: Why should the EPA have jurisdiction over California's air? Certainly if a state did not want to protect its citizens to the minimum required at the federal level, that would be an issue--but what is happening here is a greater protection. Car manufacturers argue that if a state as populous as California implements more restrictive standards, then they will be forced to obey these guidelines in order not to lose the California market; if it were a smaller state, this might not be such an issue. Therefore, restrictions in California become--in their eyes--a backdoor way to set national car emission standards. Lost is the idea that if those who believe absolutely in the free market were true to their ideals, it would work fine to have California cut out of the new car market if it were not profitable for car companies.

The EPA refusing to allow this is like the feds stepping into say that California cannot have a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage. California does have a higher minimum wage, and it should be allowed to have higher emissions standards if that is what the voters of California desire.

Now Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher, of Virginia, has introduced legislation that would stop California's efforts entirely. To wit, his bill would forbid the EPA from allowing exemptions if "such state standards are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions." By definition, increasing gas mileage standards is designed to do this.

This is Act II of the betrayal by the Democrats. The first act was the recent authorization of the spending bill for the Iraq war without inclusion of timetables; this basically gave Bush everything he wanted from the negotiation. Now, if this bill is passed, California will be betrayed and its desire to lead in environmental issues curtailed.

However, even if this proposal fails, the Democratic Congress has still reneged on its duty to California by not ordering the EPA to grant California a waiver in order to implement higher emissions standards.


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