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Published on January 26th, 2009 | by Sasha Friedman

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California Gets the Green Light to Regulate New Car Mileage

January 26th, 2009 by  
 

President Obama has instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to grant waivers to California and other states that seek to regulate vehicle emissions and mileage. This reverses a Bush policy and has automakers up in arms.

Traditionally, the Federal government has set standards for emissions and mileage – standards that are widely criticized among environmentalists as being too lax. Starting in 1975, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations were enacted as a way to continually increase fuel efficiency of vehicles sold. The regulations came out of the ’70s oil shocks and started with a mandated average 18 miles per gallon (MPG) of all the vehicles produced by each auto manufacturer in a given year, starting in vehicle year 1978. Fast forward to 2007 and the minimum has risen only to 27.5 MPG. In 2008, President Bush set a CAFE goal of 35 MPG by 2020.

California as a Leader

California has long been the leader of air quality regulations. The California Environmental Protection Agency and their subset California Air Resources Board (CARB), has put forward many standards and regulations that are copied by other states. Often times Oregon and Washington state have reached agreements on emission controls by copying what California has already put forward.

The new goals of California are to push up the CAFE standards of 35 MPG in 2020 to 35 MPG in 2016 for all vehicles sold in the state. It is the same standard, just moved up four years, which is not a big difference, but it sets the precedent for states to have control. California and the states that follow it in such regulations will, by sheer power of their purchasing power, force automakers to sell more efficient, less polluting vehicles, or face fines and lost sales.

Feeling it in the Pocket Book

For years you couldn’t find new diesel cars for sale in California because of emissions standards – diesels put out more particulate matter than gas cars. Diesel emissions technologies have now advanced to the point where they are legal to sell in California. The total market for diesel passenger vehicles is very small in the US (but growing) and not being able to sell in California wasn’t much of a loss for auto makers. Extending the reach of state regulations to every other passenger vehicle on the market will surely create a large impact as auto makers, who, thinking of lost market share, will finally bring us choices for efficient cars.

The Consumer is the Winner

To the auto makers that are resisting these changes, I feel no sympathy. Consumers have been wanting more efficient cars for years now – just look at the sales figures for hybrids. People of course are worried that better efficiency means less power and less safety, but these fears can be overcome. Yes your car will be able to accelerate when you need it to – yes it goes over 55 miles per hour – no it isn’t made of tin foil to save weight. Don’t just make more efficient cars for the states that require it of you – do it for the whole country. There may be a cost to retooling factories to make more efficient vehicles, but we all know the technology is here – just look at American cars for sale overseas and you will find very efficient vehicles.

Source: New York Times

Image credit: frumbert at Flickr under a Creative Commons license





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About the Author

Sasha has recently decided that his life is too safe and moved from Portland to South Korea with his girlfriend. He's committed to the cause of alternative energy, especially alternative fuels, despite the fact that he is a committed bicyclist (and bike polo player). After getting a degree in Business Administration: Finance and Marketing from the University of Oregon, Sasha spent four years with SeQuential Biofuels, which gave him an intimate feel for the scale and challenge the world faces at replacing the dinosaurs of our time.



  • what i’m worried about is that the NOx “issue” with biodiesel has not been adequately answered and that CA and other states will eliminate the usage of biodiesel. Sounds ridiculous, but it’s already happened in the 110 most populous counties in Texas.

  • what i’m worried about is that the NOx “issue” with biodiesel has not been adequately answered and that CA and other states will eliminate the usage of biodiesel. Sounds ridiculous, but it’s already happened in the 110 most populous counties in Texas.

  • Bob Moffitt

    “California has long been the leader of air quality regulations.”

    Unfortunately, California has also long been the leader in cities with serious air pollution problems, much of which can be attributed to vehicle emissions, the sheer number of vehicles on the roads, and (importantly) the climate and geography of these polluted areas.

  • Bob Moffitt

    “California has long been the leader of air quality regulations.”

    Unfortunately, California has also long been the leader in cities with serious air pollution problems, much of which can be attributed to vehicle emissions, the sheer number of vehicles on the roads, and (importantly) the climate and geography of these polluted areas.

  • Doug

    This is a bad idea and very surprising coming from a democrat. Instead of allowing 50 different sets of rules, the government should in act 1 federal set of rules. Have the states all submit their ideas and select the best one. The time where 50 different laws for the same thing should be long past.

  • Doug

    This is a bad idea and very surprising coming from a democrat. Instead of allowing 50 different sets of rules, the government should in act 1 federal set of rules. Have the states all submit their ideas and select the best one. The time where 50 different laws for the same thing should be long past.

  • Gary

    Anyone know if there will be a federal minimum for fuel efficiency and a maximum for CO2 emissions? I would say that it’s fine for states to set their own standards as long as they don’t go in the wrong direction.

  • Gary

    Anyone know if there will be a federal minimum for fuel efficiency and a maximum for CO2 emissions? I would say that it’s fine for states to set their own standards as long as they don’t go in the wrong direction.

  • Mark

    I agree with Doug. This is not leadership. Set a good federal standard that takes effect before 2016, because that is probably the year the Republicans gain the upper hand again and roll everything back.

  • Mark

    I agree with Doug. This is not leadership. Set a good federal standard that takes effect before 2016, because that is probably the year the Republicans gain the upper hand again and roll everything back.

  • welll he will change the face of america.

  • welll he will change the face of america.

  • Whitey

    We WAITED for the Bush’s Feds to write the rules, but they DIDN’T!

    They just stalled and pushed it to the next Prez.

    But a Democrat was elected! Fancy that!

    Now someone with stones will try to get someone to actually do something about it!

    If we left it up to the Feds and their lobbyists, NOTHING would EVER come of it! Stall, stall, stall!

    Inaction, inaction, inaction!

    I say do something now!

    Let’s have some action! Somebody LEAD!

  • Whitey

    We WAITED for the Bush’s Feds to write the rules, but they DIDN’T!

    They just stalled and pushed it to the next Prez.

    But a Democrat was elected! Fancy that!

    Now someone with stones will try to get someone to actually do something about it!

    If we left it up to the Feds and their lobbyists, NOTHING would EVER come of it! Stall, stall, stall!

    Inaction, inaction, inaction!

    I say do something now!

    Let’s have some action! Somebody LEAD!

  • Doug

    Supposedly Obama has complete support from this majority Democrat Congress. If he can not push through something as simple as emissions laws he is going to be a lame duck anyway.

  • Doug

    Supposedly Obama has complete support from this majority Democrat Congress. If he can not push through something as simple as emissions laws he is going to be a lame duck anyway.

  • ChuckL

    Doug has it correct in what this will do to the rules sets. What he didn’t mention is that these variable rules from state to state will increase the costs of all cars and trucks, and most likely violates the constitutional requirement for all states to give full faith and credit to the laws of every other state.

    Also, in the reports that I heard the EPA was instructed to reconsider the rules, not to just change them as reported by Gas 2.0

  • ChuckL

    Doug has it correct in what this will do to the rules sets. What he didn’t mention is that these variable rules from state to state will increase the costs of all cars and trucks, and most likely violates the constitutional requirement for all states to give full faith and credit to the laws of every other state.

    Also, in the reports that I heard the EPA was instructed to reconsider the rules, not to just change them as reported by Gas 2.0

  • You have made some great comments about having a strong, central message and policy coming from Obama. The Auto Alliance press release regarding this issue is interesting – it clearly states the desire for federal standards, not disjointed state standards.

    http://autoalliance.org/index.cfm?objectid=13F558B3-1D09-317F-BBB4A55F78DF68FB

  • You have made some great comments about having a strong, central message and policy coming from Obama. The Auto Alliance press release regarding this issue is interesting – it clearly states the desire for federal standards, not disjointed state standards.

    http://autoalliance.org/index.cfm?objectid=13F558B3-1D09-317F-BBB4A55F78DF68FB

  • ricardo bracho

    It was about time. There will be a federal standard, but if some states push for more pollution controls, we should embrace them and not stop these initiatives.

  • ricardo bracho

    It was about time. There will be a federal standard, but if some states push for more pollution controls, we should embrace them and not stop these initiatives.

  • Doug

    @ Ricardo,

    What we should be doing is forcing every state to meet the same STRICT guidelines. Instead this will allow the majority of the states to pass ineffectual controls. I live on the Gulf Coast and we have some of the worst pollution controls in America. It drives me crazy that there are not tighter controls over emissions.

  • Doug

    @ Ricardo,

    What we should be doing is forcing every state to meet the same STRICT guidelines. Instead this will allow the majority of the states to pass ineffectual controls. I live on the Gulf Coast and we have some of the worst pollution controls in America. It drives me crazy that there are not tighter controls over emissions.

  • Mark in Texas

    Doug

    Spoken like a true fascist. The government should force everybody to do what you want them to do. Of course, you are wrong about that. The government should actually force everybody to do what I want them to do not what you want them to do.

    Or maybe, just maybe, we might actually try to allow 50 different “laboratories of democracy” to operate and the good ideas will be adopted earlier in places where they have more appeal and if they work out well, they will be adopted widely. If they turn out to have unforseen bad consequences, the damage is limited to a single state.

    There is also the issue that this is a large and diverse nation. Not everybody agrees on the same balance of costs and benefits. You, for example, seem to disagree with your neighbors in your state as to the correct balance with respect to emissions and economic cost. The people of California seem to share your perspective. Perhaps you would be happier there. I understand that housing is becoming more affordable in California these days.

  • Mark in Texas

    Doug

    Spoken like a true fascist. The government should force everybody to do what you want them to do. Of course, you are wrong about that. The government should actually force everybody to do what I want them to do not what you want them to do.

    Or maybe, just maybe, we might actually try to allow 50 different “laboratories of democracy” to operate and the good ideas will be adopted earlier in places where they have more appeal and if they work out well, they will be adopted widely. If they turn out to have unforseen bad consequences, the damage is limited to a single state.

    There is also the issue that this is a large and diverse nation. Not everybody agrees on the same balance of costs and benefits. You, for example, seem to disagree with your neighbors in your state as to the correct balance with respect to emissions and economic cost. The people of California seem to share your perspective. Perhaps you would be happier there. I understand that housing is becoming more affordable in California these days.

  • Mark in Texas

    ChuckL

    I would not get too worked up about that full faith and credit thing. Federalism is the reason that a nation as large and diverse as ours has lasted for more than two centuries with only one civil war. The state of Massachusetts does not give any more faith and credit to my Texas concealed handgun license than the state of Texas gives to a marriage license issued to a same sex couple in Massachusetts. The overwhelming majority of people in both states are happier with that arrangement.

  • Mark in Texas

    ChuckL

    I would not get too worked up about that full faith and credit thing. Federalism is the reason that a nation as large and diverse as ours has lasted for more than two centuries with only one civil war. The state of Massachusetts does not give any more faith and credit to my Texas concealed handgun license than the state of Texas gives to a marriage license issued to a same sex couple in Massachusetts. The overwhelming majority of people in both states are happier with that arrangement.

  • TheGrinch

    Time this country separated – its too big anyways.

  • TheGrinch

    Time this country separated – its too big anyways.

  • Doug

    LOL @ Mark,

    I really love how any libertarian nut bag calls someone who likes the idea of a centralized government a fascist. I would also like to know where you got the impression this is a democracy because it is not. It is a constitutional republic that does not allow for your everyone makes their own rules style of living. It is why we elect people to make the rules for us. So go waive your rebel flag, drive your pick-up and threaten a few more Mexicans with your handgun. As to where I live don’t worry about I am quite happy with the way it works.

  • Doug

    LOL @ Mark,

    I really love how any libertarian nut bag calls someone who likes the idea of a centralized government a fascist. I would also like to know where you got the impression this is a democracy because it is not. It is a constitutional republic that does not allow for your everyone makes their own rules style of living. It is why we elect people to make the rules for us. So go waive your rebel flag, drive your pick-up and threaten a few more Mexicans with your handgun. As to where I live don’t worry about I am quite happy with the way it works.

  • Mark

    I think we are all waiting to see if this new government actually leads, or if Obama is just another politician who talks a big game but never delivers.

    Lobbyists still outnumber Congressmen about 100 to 1. They’re used to making the rules. Don’t underestimate how massive it would be to change that. It would be equivalent to another civil war. Color me optimistic but realistic.

  • Mark

    I think we are all waiting to see if this new government actually leads, or if Obama is just another politician who talks a big game but never delivers.

    Lobbyists still outnumber Congressmen about 100 to 1. They’re used to making the rules. Don’t underestimate how massive it would be to change that. It would be equivalent to another civil war. Color me optimistic but realistic.

  • Mark in Texas

    LOL @ Doug

    I love how totalitarians accuse anybody who criticizes their desire for Soviet style centralization of being a libertarian nutbag.

    This is a big country with hundreds of millions of people and we don’t all agree on everything. By having most laws made at the state rather than the national level, we have a system where most people can live a lot closer to the way they want than if we impose a one size fits all solution on everybody from Nantucket to Guam.

    But there is always some fraction of the population who just cannot stand the fact that somebody, somewhere is doing something that they don’t approve of. That’s where you come in, Doug. Live and let live is probably never going to be your motto.

    Doug, you should also learn to distinguish a discussion of federation vs unitary state from a discussion of republic vs democracy. They are really very different discussions. It is kind of like we were comparing the relative merits of photovoltaic and solar thermal and you jumped in claiming that algae is the only right way to make biodiesel. When you don’t understand the difference in categories, you come across as, well, not so bright.

  • Mark in Texas

    LOL @ Doug

    I love how totalitarians accuse anybody who criticizes their desire for Soviet style centralization of being a libertarian nutbag.

    This is a big country with hundreds of millions of people and we don’t all agree on everything. By having most laws made at the state rather than the national level, we have a system where most people can live a lot closer to the way they want than if we impose a one size fits all solution on everybody from Nantucket to Guam.

    But there is always some fraction of the population who just cannot stand the fact that somebody, somewhere is doing something that they don’t approve of. That’s where you come in, Doug. Live and let live is probably never going to be your motto.

    Doug, you should also learn to distinguish a discussion of federation vs unitary state from a discussion of republic vs democracy. They are really very different discussions. It is kind of like we were comparing the relative merits of photovoltaic and solar thermal and you jumped in claiming that algae is the only right way to make biodiesel. When you don’t understand the difference in categories, you come across as, well, not so bright.

  • Bob

    Question: When did the EPA change the way that MPG’s are calculated, wasn’t it about 2005-6? I know that the change resulted in a roughly 20-30% reduction in average MPG’s per vehicle, so that an MPG of 27.5 in 2008 is probably the equavalent of 35 MPG in 1998. Was the 27.5 calculated with the new EPA method or the old?

  • Bob

    Question: When did the EPA change the way that MPG’s are calculated, wasn’t it about 2005-6? I know that the change resulted in a roughly 20-30% reduction in average MPG’s per vehicle, so that an MPG of 27.5 in 2008 is probably the equavalent of 35 MPG in 1998. Was the 27.5 calculated with the new EPA method or the old?

  • Ursus

    This post is just brimming with ignorance.

  • Ursus

    This post is just brimming with ignorance.

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