Las Vegas Sun

July 23, 2014

Currently: 89° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

ENVIRONMENT:

Cleaner cars, whether we want ’em or not

If EPA lets states set own rules, the tightest will prevail

What California wants, California gets. And the rest of us get it, too.

That’s the message coming out of Washington, where President Barack Obama ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its 2008 decision to bar California and 13 other states — including New Mexico, Oregon and Arizona — from adopting stricter emissions standards for cars and small trucks. And the same day he signed the executive order to the EPA, Jan. 26, he ordered the federal Transportation Department to create tighter fuel efficiency standards for all 2011 model year vehicles.

The move sent a strong message to the environmental community, and to Detroit, that Obama would keep his green campaign promises. But it also signaled that states such as Nevada, which was loath to sign on to the stricter emissions standards, might be dragged into the carbon-constrained future.

Nevada has tried at every turn to defy lefty, California environmental initiatives.

Despite most of its neighbors committing fully, Gov. Jim Gibbons signed Nevada on as just an “observer” rather than a “participant” state in the Western Climate Initiative, an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Western states. Gibbons isn’t a voting member of the Western Governors’ Association, which recently passed an environment and energy policy that called for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on foreign oil through more public transportation, fuel-efficient cars and renewable energy.

And, you guessed it, Gibbons resisted the tighter vehicle emissions standards, too, despite three-fifths of Nevada’s neighbors opting in.

California would be allowed to set these emissions standards that are stricter than national regulations if it gets a waiver from the EPA. Other states would also be allowed to sign on to those standards.

Passenger vehicles are the second largest source of global warming emissions nationwide, and the stricter standards would have reduced California’s passenger vehicle emissions by 30 percent by 2016.

Then, in 2008, the Bush EPA denied California’s waiver. California sued over the denial, and it’s that waiver that Obama has ordered the EPA to reconsider.

California wants to require vehicles to average about 40 miles per gallon by 2020, while federal standards passed by Congress in 2007 would require all cars and light trucks to get 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

The 2007 change was the first time Congress had improved fuel efficiency standards since 1975. Previously the standard was 27.5 miles per gallon for cars and 20.7 for light trucks.

As president, George W. Bush said he thought the new standard was good enough. He said allowing the waiver would create a patchwork of state emissions regulations that would put unnecessary strain on automakers.

But, in reality, granting the waiver would hardly have created a patchwork. The people in the 14 states that signed on to the stricter fuel efficiency standards make up about half the American vehicle market.

It’s unlikely any carmaker would design half its cars to be fuel efficient and the other half to have older, less desirable technology, not to mention a less desirable price tag at the pump.

So, Nevada will probably get more fuel efficient cars whether Gibbons — or its residents — like it or not.

Environment America estimates that if only the original 14 states — including most of New England and several Western states — were allowed to adopt the stricter standards, it would “reduce global warming pollution by more than 450 million metric tons by 2020 — a reduction equivalent to eliminating all of the pollution from 84.7 million of today’s cars for a year.”

And the group says the measure would save Americans $93 billion — 50 billion gallons of gas — by 2020.

Maybe this is one time we should thank the “nanny state” on the left coast.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy