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November 28, 2005

USA: Battle looms as some states sign up to stricter emissions laws

New York state’s adoption of California's ambitious new regulations aimed at cutting automotive emissions of global warming gases is touching off a battle over rules that would sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions while forcing the motor industry to make vehicles more energy efficient over the next decade, according to the New York Times.

New York state’s adoption of California’s ambitious new regulations aimed at cutting automotive emissions of global warming gases is touching off a battle over rules that would sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions while forcing the motor industry to make vehicles more energy efficient over the next decade, according to the New York Times.

The paper noted that the rules, passed this month by unanimous vote of the State Environmental Board, are expected to be adopted across the north-eastern United States and the west coast and that the motor industry has already moved to block the rules in New York state and plans to battle them in every other state that follows suit.

Environmentalists reportedly say the regulations will not lead to the extinction of any class of vehicle, but simply pressure the industry to sell more of the fuel-saving technologies they have already developed, including hybrid systems – that, they say, will curtail one of the main contributors to global warming.

According to the New York Times, US vehicle makers contend that the regulations will limit the availability of many sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, vans and larger sedans, since they will effectively require huge leaps in fuel economy to rein in emissions. The industry also says the rules will force them to curb sales of more-powerful engines in the state, and ultimately harm consumers by increasing the cost of vehicles, the report added.

The paper said the standards are actually the most ambitious environmental regulations for vehicles since federal fuel economy regulations were enacted in the 1970s – they will be phased in starting with 2009 models and require a roughly 30% reduction in automotive emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by the 2016 models.

The new rules will also effectively require an improvement in fuel economy on the order of 40% for vehicles sold in the state, the New York Times said.

This latest report said 10 states – New York, Maine, New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania – already follow or plan to follow California’s air quality rules, which have previously focused on vehicle emissions that cause smog, and the latest set of rules would for the first time limit carbon dioxide emissions. And as the largest of the 10, New York is being closely watched as it institutes the new rules.

The New York Times said that, if all 10 states and California succeed in enacting the rules, they will form a powerful alternative regulatory bloc accounting for about a third of the nation’s vehicle sales. Environmentalists reportedly reckon that is so much of the market it should reach a tipping point because it won’t make sense for the automakers to build two fleets, one clean and one dirty.

The paper said vehicle buyers will certainly notice the regulations should they survive the court challenges – New York state estimates that the rules will increase the cost of a new car or truck by more than US$1,000 when fully phased in, an amount it expects car owners to recoup over time through savings on fuel. Vehicles will need to comply with the new standards to be registered in the states.

In early August, more than three months before the regulations were even adopted, automakers from Detroit to Tokyo joined in a suit to block them, making New York the latest legal front in the industry’s fight against the measures, the New York Times said, adding that, after California adopted the regulations in their final form in September 2004, vehicle makers sued in state and federal courts, where the battle is still playing out.

The paper noted that California, unlike other states, has special authority to set its own air quality rules because it did so before passage of the federal Clean Air Act. Other states can pick California’s tougher regulations over Washington’s.

“If the California regulation actually were in effect today, only a handful of models would meet it,” Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told the paper.

A policy adviser to the state’s attorney general reportedly said she expected more challenges on many fronts, with automakers battling New York every step of the way.

An analysis by the State Department of Environmental Conservation told the New York Times it would take one to five years for drivers of cars, smaller sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks to make up for the higher initial cost of their more fuel-efficient vehicles, assuming a petrol price of $2 a gallon and drivers of heavier SUVs and pickups would take one to three years.

But automakers reportedly estimate that the regulation will add about $3,000 to the cost of new cars and trucks and be hard to make up over time. To comply, they told the New York Times, they will have to restrict sales of their vehicles with the poorest fuel economy, or redesign them to add new technologies, or to be more aerodynamic and lighter in weight.

But environmental groups reportedly say the rules can be met with technology already on the shelf.

“They said that seat belts would put them out of business; they said that air bags would put them out of business; they said fuel economy and emissions regulations would all put them out of business,” David Friedman, a senior analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the New York Times.

“It turns out it’s their unwillingness to innovate that’s putting them out of business right now,” he added, referring to the current struggles of General Motors and Ford.

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