California Governor Gray Davis yesterday (Monday) signed into law legislation that makes his state the first to attempt to combat global warming by requiring reduced tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases, the Los Angeles Times said.

The newspaper said the Democratic governor’s widely expected decision to sign the bill by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (a Democrat representing the city of Agoura Hills) was a triumph for environmentalists, who suffered a bitter defeat in Washington earlier this year when they attempted to raise fuel economy standards.

The paper said that environmentalists hope to use the passage of the law in California, the country’s largest car market, law to reduce gas-forming emissions in the state and also force through law changes that will improve vehicle fuel efficiency across the entire country.

“We are going to set an example for the rest of the country,” Davis told a cheering crowd at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times, adding that he was leading the way because Washington politicians had failed to act. “I am convinced that other states will follow.”

The Car Connection (TCC) website said that car makers had vowed to fight the new legislation every inch of the way.

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Apparently responding to the threats, Davis said: “Opponents of this bill say the sky is falling. But they said it about unleaded gasoline. They said it about catalytic converters. They said it about seat belts and airbags. But the sky is not falling. It’s just getting a whole lot cleaner.”

Citing Davis, TCC said the new law would not impose new vehicle or petrol taxes and would not limit the miles driven or require smaller, lighter or slower vehicles.

“Nor will it limit SUV, minivan, or any other type of vehicle ownership,” Davis said, according to TCC.

The Los Angeles Times said the new law augments the authority of the agency responsible for regulating air pollution, the California Air Resources Board, but provides the board with only a hazy outline of how to reach its goal of achieving the “maximum feasible reduction” of greenhouse gases.

It requires that new cars sold in California seven years from now emit less of the gases that trap heat in the atmosphere but it falls to the Air Resources Board to figure out the technology, the newspaper said.

The Los Angeles Times said the board must come up with its recommendations by 2005, amid what is certain to be sustained scrutiny and legal squabbling by vehicle makers, and the emissions standard it sets will then apply to all cars and trucks from the 2009 model year onwards.

The LA Times said that the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group of all the major car makers except Honda, announced that it would sue to challenge the new law, arguing that it exceeded the state’s jurisdiction.

The newspaper said that because the best known way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars is to make vehicles that burn less fuel, car makers argued from the start that the California measure was a backdoor attempt to go around the federal government and, in effect, set a new national fuel-efficiency standard.

The LA Times said that, when commenting on the bill, Davis himself said, “I would prefer to have Washington take the lead, but in the absence of that we have no choice but to do our part…. It is my hope that other states will do the same thing.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, California is the only state allowed, under federal law, to set air pollution standards higher than those imposed by the federal government. Other states can then follow its lead, giving the state the ability to set national standards.

The newspaper said the state air board has a long record of pushing car makers to make changes against their will and California regulations were the first to require vehicle makers to use catalytic converters, seat belts, clean diesel fuel, unleaded fuel, alternative fuels, reformulated petrol and electric and hybrid cars – often despite industry denials that the changes could be accomplished or would be accepted by consumers.

Regulations governing vehicle tailpipe emissions have led to new cars that are 95% cleaner than those of a decade ago, a key reason for recent air quality gains in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, the Los Angeles Times said.

The newspaper added that car makers may attempt to overturn the law by challenging California’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, as a “pollutant.” Unlike other tailpipe emissions, it does not contribute to smog and has not been regulated before, the Los Angeles Times said.