California has been grabbing the headlines after the latest energy bill raised the CAFE standards to 35 MPG by 2020. First, the EPA rejected California's Auto Emissions Waiver, claiming that the new federal standards were stricter than those proposed by California. Then, as expected, California sued the EPA for denying the waiver, and in the meantime, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee launched an investigation into why EPA Administrator Johnson ignored the recommendations of his own advisors in denying the waiver.
Now, it is becoming clear that the E.P.A.'s math was suspect to begin with. In response, the E.P.A. has begun changing its story as to why the waiver was denied. Because the California standard would be phased in differently than the CAFE standard, and would therefore require different MPG averages at different points between now and 2020, there are two ways to "make a clean comparison between the two." The first way would be to "compare the 35 miles-per-gallon (Federal) standard with California's 40.4 miles-per-gallon standard for that year (2020). It hasn't." The second way would be to
estimate how the new [CAFE] standards will be phased in. Past practice indicates that the fuel-efficiency rules will be phased in slowly, with the most stringent requirements postponed until later years. Or they could be phased in evenly. Using such assumptions, the E.P.A. could compare the federal standard for the year 2016 against California's. It hasn't.
Instead, the agency chose to compare "the California standard's impact in 2016 with the federal standard's impact in 2020." Not exactly a sound basis for making a policy decision. All this forced E.P.A. spokesman Jonathan Shradar to admit that "it doesn't appear as if we have that apples-to-apples comparison."
Fortunately, California is more interested in protecting its interests than those of the automakers. They did their own analysis over the holidays and found that "by 2020, the projected California standards would cut 75 percent more emissions than the federal ones." This isn't a surprising finding. As David Doniger of the NRDC points out, "If California's standards are weaker, then why are the car companies so opposed to them?" Why indeed.
It is important to keep in mind that under the Clean Air Act, states can choose between the California standard and the federal standard (and indeed, many states are ready to adopt the California standard if and when it is granted the waiver). But in order for California to set its own standard, it must be stricter than the federal standard, and California must also demonstrate compelling and extraordinary circumstances for being granted the waiver. California has never been denied a waiver before.
Perhaps cognizant of the fact that they can't win the "less strict" argument in court, the new E.P.A. line of defense is that California does not meet the compelling and extraordinary circumstances test. All this will be decided in court, but given the Mass v EPA Supreme Court decision last year (which, among other things, established that CO2 is a pollutant and can be regulated under the Clean Air Act), it's hard to see what the E.P.A.'s argument will be. After all, in Mass v EPA, Justice Stevens, in his majority opinion, reasoned that when it comes to greenhouses gases and climate change, even though a reduction in emissions from tailpipes cannot be directly linked to preventing damage from floods to, say, the Massachusetts coast, every bit helps. So it seems California will be able to make the case that even if its new standard is only slightly better (and it certainly is better), every bit helps, and since California is likely to face severe impacts from climate change, it has extraordinary and compelling reasons to implement more stringent tailpipe regulations.
It will be interesting to see how all this plays out in '08.
See Also: ::Climate Change Expected to Drastically Alter California, ::Arnold Launches Green CA Site, ::1500 Megawatt Wind Project Planned For California, ::California To Pass Emissions Cap: "A Bottom-up Approach to Global Warming.", and ::Largest Solar Farm Ever to be Built in California