By David Doniger
Today the Environmental Protection Agency will give California the long-awaited green light to enforce its landmark standards to cut global warming pollution from new motor vehicles.
This is a major step in implementing the clean car peace treaty unveiled by President Obama in the White House Rose Garden last month. By granting the waiver needed under the Clean Air Act, EPA is putting the federal seal of approval on California's leadership in cleaning up global warming pollution from our cars, SUVs, pickups, and minivans.
The saga of the California standards started seven years ago, when nothing was being done in Washington to fight global warming. NRDC and others - including the Coalition for Clean Air, Bluewater Network, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund -campaigned to pass AB 1493, sponsored by then-Assemblywoman (now State Senator) Fran Pavley, in the California legislature. Signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis and implemented with gusto by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California initiative was soon embraced by 14 other states, altogether covering 40 percent of new vehicle sales. The standards take effect immediately and will ramp up steadily to cut emissions of four heat-trapping pollutants - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) - 30 percent by the 2016 model year.
The car makers fought the states bitterly in the courts and the political arena for more seven years. But they lost one court case after another. They tried, and failed, to get Congress to strip California's authority in the 2007 energy bill. They counted on the Bush administration, but that shield expired in January. The Obama team promised a fresh look at the waiver, and now they have delivered.
As a part of the clean car peace treaty, the car makers have agreed not to file more court challenges to the California waiver. (See their commitment letters here). So after seven years, this part of the story comes to a close today.
The Obama administration's next step will be to issue federal greenhouse gas and mileage standards for 2012-2016 models that extend the benefits of California's standards nationwide. These national standards will be a win for everyone. We'll have cleaner cars that cut dangerous global warming pollution nationwide. We'll save money every time we fill up at the pump. We'll cut our country's dangerous dependence on oil. The car makers will get the practical national uniformity they've been craving. And we'll help them get back to health by making cars that fit the market in a world of higher oil prices and global warming.
Today's decision will have lasting impacts even beyond the current standards. We'll need even cleaner cars in the future, beyond 2016, to curb global warming and protect our energy security. California will play a key role in getting us there.