Calif.'s greenhouse gas standards become national policy

By John O'Brien | May 20, 2009


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - The stringent vehicle emissions standards that California Attorney General Jerry Brown has defended will now become a federal requirement.

President Barack Obama is using the standards as the basis for the first limit on greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles imposed by the Federal Government. For years, Brown and a group of attorneys general have been fighting auto makers that argued the standards were preempted Environmental Protection Agency requirements.

"This is an historic agreement that will lead to a 30 percent reduction in motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions nationwide," Brown said. "This agreement brings an end to a five-year legal battle. It means that automakers finally recognize that their future depends on making cleaner and more efficient vehicles."

Motor vehicles manufactured in the U.S. must reach a fleetwide standard of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.

Brown had attempted to earn a waiver that allowed other states to adopt them, but auto makers argued that wasn't fair. The Bush Administration refused to grant it in 2007, and despite this 14 other states chose to abide by California's rules.

The issue came up in several courts, and Brown helped the states of Vermont, Rhode Island and New Mexico defend themselves.

Because the state has 32 million registered vehicles, twice the number of any other state, the impact on greenhouse gas emissions does create a compelling need for the increased regulatory standards, Brown argued.

Brown now says he expects the Obama Administration to quickly grant the waiver, and set out the next steps for his state in a letter to the EPA and Raymond LaHood, the Secretary of Transportation.

The Progressive States Network, a nonprofit that supports state legislation on "issues that matter to working families," said the process was an example of states' power to set national policy by being more progressive than the Federal Government.

Said PSN's Interim Executive Director, Nathan Newman, "The spin from auto industry executives is that Obama's decision demonstrates the wisdom of letting the federal government set a unified national standard instead of a 'patchwork' of state regulations.

"In fact, the complete opposite is true. If it weren't for California pushing to set standards that outpaced the Bush Administration's pitifully low ones, there would be no new regulatory framework to enact today."

In February, the EPA announced it was going to review the 2007 decision denying California's request for the waiver. And when troubled U.S. automakers began looking for federal help, Obama made it known that stricter emissions standards would be part of the deal.

"But I'm confident that if each are willing to do their part, if all of us are doing our part, then this restructuring, as painful as it will be in the short term, will mark not an end, but a new beginning for a great American industry -- an auto industry that is once more out-competing the world; a 21st century auto industry that is creating new jobs, unleashing new prosperity, and manufacturing the fuel-efficient cars and trucks that will carry us towards an energy-independent future," Obama said in March.

"I am absolutely committed to working with Congress and the auto companies to meet one goal: The United States of America will lead the world in building the next generation of clean cars."

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at

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