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Automakers Attack Proposal to Address Global Warming


Published: September 23, 2004

DETROIT, Sept. 22 - Automakers on Wednesday attacked a California plan to regulate automotive emissions of global warming gases.

The state's proposal "clearly goes far beyond what is reasonable and achievable," said Fred Webber, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a lobbying group that includes all of the major automakers except Honda and Nissan.

Mr. Webber spoke at a news conference a day before the California Air Resources Board is scheduled to begin two days of hearings on a plan to reduce automotive global warming emissions about 30 percent by the 2016 model year. A vote on the plan is expected Friday.

The plan, if it is approved and survives legal challenges, would have enormous implications for the efficiency of cars and trucks sold in California. It could also affect Northeastern states like New York that follow California's air pollution rules. It would be several years before a plan would begin to take effect, however, and a legal challenge is likely from the industry.

The Bush administration and other Republicans have generally rejected efforts to regulate global warming. But in California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has said he supports the emissions plan, which was signed by Gray Davis, the former Democratic governor.

Automakers have criticized the plan before, but they attacked it more directly Wednesday on several fronts. One of their main arguments is that the plan is pre-empted by Washington's authority to regulate fuel economy, because improving a car's fuel efficiency is by far the most significant way to cut emissions linked to climate change.

"This proposal is really a fuel economy rule and as such is clearly pre-empted by federal law," said Mr. Webber. "A lawsuit is certainly an option, especially when you're looking into the pre-emption issue," he added.

But emissions can be reduced modestly in ways other than improving fuel efficiency, for example by making changes to a car's air-conditioning system.

Part of the legal dispute centers on whether gases linked to global warming can be considered pollutants. If so, California has the authority to set its own air pollution regulations. But under the Bush administration, the Environmental Protection Agency no longer considers greenhouse gases to be pollutants. California and several other states are suing the agency on the decision.

"California has the clear authority to regulate carbon dioxide as an air pollutant," said Roland Hwang, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We believe that attacking these global warming pollution standards is a losing proposition, both legally and politically."

Mr. Webber said that the industry estimated that California consumers would have to pay $3,000 more upfront for the average automobile when the plan was phased in. The state has estimated a $626 increased cost for cars and $955 for sport utility vehicles and other trucks, which would be easier to make up over time by saving money at the pump.

Mr. Webber also said that the plan as currently outlined "does not claim any significant air quality benefit and does not even attempt to quantify a single health benefit."

Environmentalists, citing a growing body of scientific research, have said that reducing emissions linked to climate change is an urgent concern. They cite trends including higher ozone levels, which contribute to health problems including asthma, as well as increased infectious disease and heat-related deaths.

Alliance officials said they believed global warming was a legitimate issue but did not have their own plan for addressing tailpipe emissions.


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