January 28, 2009

California Emission Standards

President Obama has directed EPA to re-examine whether California and other states should be allowed to set their own auto emission standards that are tougher then federal standards. New EPA administrator Lisa Jackson was quoted as already saying she would “very, very aggressively” review CA’s application.
For reference, the 2007 U.S. Energy Bill raises mileage standards to 35 MPG and reduces CO2 emissions from autos by 30% by 2020. The California regulations require car makers to meet the same standards, but four years earlier- by 2016.

Of course, the reduction of air pollutions is long overdue – we all need this. However, allowing individual states to set standards tougher then federal ones is simply illogical. If Obama and EPA believe that meeting CA regulations by 2016 is technically possible and economically feasible, why not simply incorporate CA standard into a national standard? If CA's timeline is doable, why not to enforce it nationwide to sooner reduce the emissions in all states?
Since Obama and EPA did not state their intention to harmonize national standards with CA regulations, they apparently are not so confident that the automakers can meet CA's timetable. Indeed, it was estimated that implementation of the original federal rules by 2020 would cost the auto industry $115 billion. It would cost even more to meet these rules four year sooner. Where are US car makers going to get this additional money when they need billions of dollars just to stay afloat? Proponents of accelerated regulations say the automakers are in trouble because they don't make competitive cars. This is partially true. However, right now people don't buy enough cars not because the cars don't meet particular emissions and not even because they don't feature particular mpg. We already have high mpg hybrids. Right now, the reason why people are not buying cars is that they can't afford them, or can't get a loan. Besides getting car loans flowing again, the only thing that could boost car sales and revive the industry at this moment is lowering the upfront cost for the buyers. IMHO this would require freeze on all new regulations and of course, concessions from the unions. Note that according to GM's Vice Chairman Lutz, the CA waiver would add to the cost of the cars $4,000 to $5,000 on average. And at $2/gal, going from 28mpg to 35mpg will save us only $1429 over 100K miles.

But maybe California Air Resources Board (CARB) knows what it is doing? Well, the outcome of another California emission regulations -- the regulation of off-road engines [that particularly included emergency electric generators] is worth noting. When CARB began introducing these regulations, the Diesel Technology Forum, a non-profit educational organization, warned that when real lives are at stake and businesses are at risk, this is not the time to try to impose more stringent limits on emergency generators. CARB did not listen. They must have thought that once a regulation is enacted, the compliant products will magically appear. Not so. If you browse generators' for sale sites, you will see that many residential generators in the US market still state "not CARB-compliant, not for sale in CA." If EPA will accept CA emission waiver, a similar thing may happen with cars. Some automakers or some models may meet the new standards by 2016 and some might not. As automakers warned, they would have to produce two sets of vehicles (assuming they will not go belly up). As a result, residents of CA and those states that join them may experience a shortage of the new cars. This would additionally drive their cost up besides those extra $4K-$5K.

Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter. A time to enact regulations and a time to freeze regulations; a time to reduce emissions, and a time to reduce the cost...