Has change really come? Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California legislature seem to think so.
President Obama announced his support for California’s request to implement stricter passenger vehicle emission regulations last Sunday, less than a week after assuming office.
“The president’s action is a great victory for California and also for clean air around the nation,” Schwarzenegger said at a press conference in Sacramento last Monday.
The governor sent a letter to Obama the day after his inauguration urging the newly elected president to order the Environmental Protection Agency to support California’s Clean Air Act waiver. Obama agreed four days later.
The waiver was drafted in 2005 by the Schwarzenegger Administration to allow the state to adopt AB 1493, which would amend the federal Clean Air Act to allow the California Air Resources Board to regulate greenhouse gas emission standards. AB 1493 would require a reduction California’s passenger vehicle emissions by 22 percent by 2012 and by 30 percent by 2016.
The plan will be the equivalent of taking 6.5 million cars off the road, Schwarzenegger said. Currently, about 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, said Linda Adams, secretary of the California EPA.
Under the Clean Air Act, California has much more stringent air quality regulations than any other state due to its large population and pollution levels. Any state that chooses to adopt California’s regulations may do so. Fifteen other states currently support California’s waiver.
AB 1493 was first introduced in January 2001 by California state Representative Fran Pavley. Now a state senator, Pavley has continued to fight for its implementation since it was first denied by the EPA during the first Bush administration.
“What a difference one week makes in Washington D.C.,” Pavley said at Monday’s press conference.
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is the primary greenhouse gas affecting climate change, but the EPA denied California’s request because it did not treat CO2 as a pollutant, said Anthony Wexler of the UC Davis Air Quality Research Center. After the Supreme Court ruled that CO2 was indeed an air pollutant, the EPA still did not allow the new regulations.
“The Bush administration and cronies were wanting to avoid anything to do with climate change,” Wexler said.
The regulations were developed with the help of top-notch engineers, who were experts in automotive efficiencies and technologies, according to Pavley.
“We know the automobile industries can meet these targets,” she said.
Several UC Davis professors in environmental science fields see Obama’s support as a great step forward but believe more must be done.
“The Bush administration’s thwarting of California’s efforts to improve environmental quality through cleaner cars represented an unprecedented departure from federal policy,” said environmental science and policy professor Mark Schwartz in an e-mail interview. “It is gratifying to see the Obama team correct that error so swiftly.
Schwartz believes the new economic downturn will cause problems for the plan.
“If people aren’t buying cars, they won’t be buying the cleaner new technology cars,” he said.
Although he believes that the Pavley regulations are feasible, environmental science and policy professor emeritus Robert Johnston also thinks more must be done.
“The energy-efficient cars are only a part of the solution,” said Johnston in an e-mail interview. “We also need biofuels. And we need better land use. No more sprawl.”
Johnston sees a more obvious reason for Obama’s support for the waiver.
“Obama knows how to read, which is a new thing in the White House, and so he understands climate change,” he said.
RONNY SMITH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. XXX