Taking the High Road

In our country, the public sector is picking up speed in its efforts to promote cleaner automotive technologies. A number of governmental entities are pushing initiatives to promote the production of automobiles that emit fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Taking the lead, California enacted a state law (A.B. 1493) in 2002 that required the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to adopt regulations by 2005 to control vehicle-related emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons from passenger cars and light-duty trucks. The rules apply to 2009-2026 model year vehicles and call for the use of technology packages CARB declared were either currently available or soon would be available. CARB stated that cam phasing, variable valve lift, gasoline direct injection, cylinder deactivation, turbochargers, and improved alternators could be used initially. Other West Coast and Northeastern states are expected to follow California's example soon and adopt similar rules.

At the federal level, the Bush administration is promoting greener automotive technology. As part of the his administration's proposed energy plan presented to the U.S. Congress earlier this year, President Bush called for tax incentives for clean diesel vehicles and proposed $2.5 billion in tax incentives over a 10 year period to encourage consumers to buy energy efficient hybrid cars and trucks.

Many members of Congress agree with President Bush's approach of using incentives to push cleaner automotive technology. On June 28, the Senate passed a comprehensive energy bill has been sent to conference to work out the differences with the energy bill that was passed earlier this year by the House. The House's bill (HR.6) includes expanded tax credits for individuals who buy alternative fuel vehicles, which includes an expansion of the range of hybrid and clean vehicles that qualify for the alternative motor vehicle tax credit. The value of the tax credit ranges from $2,000 for smaller personal cars to $40,000 for the purchase of buses.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is among the federal agencies working with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to advance energy efficiency. According to a statement made by DOE spokesman Michael Waldron said in May, the technologies currently being researched could increase fuel economy by about 50 percent from current levels by 2020 if there is widespread marketplace acceptance.

So far, there has been a mixed reaction from the corporate world concerning the public sector's push for automobiles with lower GHG emissions. For example, in December 2004 the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) filed a suit in federal court in California Central Valley Chrysler v. Witherspoon, (ED Cal) 239: A-20 (12-14-04) to block California from implementing the CARB rules that regulate vehicle-related GHGs. General Motors, Ford Motor Co., and Daimler-Chrysler are members of AAM. The plaintiffs contend that CARB overstepped its authority in adopting the rules and labeled the regulations "de facto fuel economy standards," which only the federal government may impose. The auto manufacturers also argue that the rules would push up the prices of new cars too high. Later, in February the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers (AIAM) intervened in the lawsuit and supported AAM's position.

On the flip side, even though Ford Motor Co. is a member of the organization (AAM) that is suing California over its vehicle-related GHG standards, the auto manufacturer is also taking steps to review how its own corporate practices affect GHG emissions. On March 31, the company announced it will release a report by the end of 2005 examining how different business policies the automaker implements can affect GHG emissions. The report will include a strategic analysis of potential alternatives to and/or innovations for addressing various climate change policies.

On March 31, California State Comptroller Steve Westly commended Ford Motor Co. and CEO Bill Ford "for having the courage to stand up for what is right."

"Clean technology is the future, and Ford's decision to address the risks of global warming is an example for all major American corporations," Westly said.

Industry and the state and federal governments should work together on two goals that are of paramount importance to our nation: promoting the development of automobiles that emit less air pollution and are more fuel efficient. The future health of our citizens and our national security are dependent upon our country creating as soon as possible technologies that emit little or no hazardous emissions and dramatically cut our reliance on foreign oil.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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