California adopts landmark global warming legislation


LOS ANGELES, AFP

The U.S. state of California adopted a landmark new law Monday that curbs vehicle greenhouse gas emissions in a move that raises the stakes in a bitter battle between automakers and environmentalists.

California, which has a reputation for setting environmental trends, is the first U.S. state to impose strict controls on vehicle exhaust emissions that scientists say cause greenhouse gases which lead to global warming.

Governor Gray Davis signed into law the bill which other U.S. states could well emulate and which has enraged the car powerful auto industry.

“This is the first law to substantively address the greatest environmental challenge of the 21st Century,” Davis said.

“In time, in every state — and hopefully in every country — will act to protect future generations from the threat of global warming.”

The law, which comes into force on Jan. 1 next year, requires the state Air Resources Board to develop greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles starting with 2009 model cars and trucks, mostly using existing technology.

The law authorizes the board to introduce regulations providing for the “maximum feasible reduction of greenhouse gases” by passenger cars and trucks by 2005.

The move is seen as dealing one of their biggest setbacks in decades to automakers who have for years tried to block in the U.S. Congress attempts to regulate fuel economy rules.

Auto manufacturers, who insist they have already put much of the technology that counters greenhouse gas emissions into their vehicles, are expected to sue over the law that reignites a perennial battle with environmentalists.

The California legislature approved the bill by the slimmest of margins July 1, outflanking opponents of the move who were backed by a US$5 million lobbying campaign by the auto industry.

Critics claim that the law is a back-door method of imposing petrol mileage standards on car makers, something only the U.S. federal government can do, and a move that would make only a tiny contribution to greenhouse gas reduction.

They also say that the bill will limit the types of vehicles that Californians can buy, disfavoring large sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and trucks that make up nearly 50 percent of all vehicles sold in the state.

“Opponents of the bill say the sky is falling,” Davis said.

“But they said it about unleaded gasoline. They said it about catalytic converters. They said it about seat belts and air bags. But the sky is not falling. Its just getting a whole lot cleaner.”

Environmentalists argue that much of the technology needed to make vehicles more fuel-efficient already exists, including CVT or continuously variable transmissions replacing the old belt and-pulley system and tires that lower rolling resistance and variable valve timing.

Davis said that because the new standards would be based on automakers’ entire fleets rather than on individual vehicles, they had more leeway to tackle the problem creatively.

“The technology is available,” Davis said. “We’re merely asking business to do what business does best: innovate, compete, find solutions to problems and do it in a way that strengthens the economy.”