In one of his first actions in office, President Barack Obama made good on a promise to reverse an Environmental Protection Agency decision that blocked California from implementing stricter pollution standards on vehicles sold in the state.
The EPA under President George W. Bush denied California‘s request, saying that regulating vehicle emissions was the job of the federal government. The claim was that allowing different states to have different standards would create an unenforceable tangled web of rules.
Automakers also opposed California‘s proposal, saying that it would be too difficult to manufacture different kinds of cars for different states.
The claim that this will create an untenable patchwork of regulations in different states is false. California has a special status under the Clean Air Act that allows it to set its own regulations as long as they are more strict than the federal standard. Other states are allowed to adopt California‘s standard, or they can stick with the federal standard.
Thirteen other states have said they will adopt California‘s standards. That‘s nearly half of the population of the U.S., a fact that will simplify the enforcement process for the EPA, as well as essentially force automakers to manufacture cars that can be sold in all 50 states.
There are a number of arguments against rules that limit tailpipe emissions, but California lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger opted for that approach, and by proxy that‘s what the people of California want. If Californians decide that this negatively affects them, they can lobby for it to be changed or vote out the lawmakers who made it happen.
Rush Limbaugh and other social conservatives will tell you that this is simply a way for the overzealous tree hugging liberals to control other people’s lives, part of a vast socialist conspiracy intended to take away other people‘s liberties.
Yet a basic fact of economics is that some activities or choices have negative externalities, meaning they have an adverse impact on other people. Driving a gas-guzzling car pollutes the air, which is a negative externality.
While we may have the freedom to drive whatever car we want, we don‘t have the freedom to spew pollutants into the atmosphere that we all share. That is ultimately what these regulations are intended to address, and Obama should be applauded for his swift action to make them possible.