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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

California Moves Against CO2

Air Date: Week of

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California is on its way to being the first state to limit greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. Host Steve Curwood talks with Los Angeles Times reporter Gary Polakovic about AB 1058, the bill that just passed the state Assembly.


CURWOOD: California has taken a step to become the first state in the nation to limit greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. The state's Lower House just passed the landmark bill, known as AB-1058, and the State Senate is expected to follow. CO2 is not regulated as a pollutant right now but it is closely linked to global climate change. Gary Polakovic is an environment reporter for The Los Angeles Times and has been covering the story. Gary, why does this bill focus exclusively on vehicular emissions?

POLAKOVIC: Well, California's in kind of a different situation than a lot of the other states, in that so many of our stationary sources, like power plants and factories, these are all largely powered by natural gas. We have a lot of renewable energy in the state, too, so we don't get most of our greenhouse gases from those kind of sources. We get them from cars, something like on the order of 57 percent of all the CO2 in the state if produced from vehicle tailpipes. And, at the same time, people in California are aware that climate change is a real concern. California has some special natural resources that scientists see as fairly vulnerable to climate change, including our coastline and, especially, the Sierra snow-pack that provides most of the water. If the planet gets too warm, they're worried that those resources are going to be impaired.

CURWOOD: Now what exactly is in this bill? What does it call for?

POLAKOVIC: Well, the bill is fairly broad in its mandate. In short, it's calling on the California Air Resources Board to achieve the maximum feasible cost-effective and technologically achievable reductions. And it has to do that while providing the greatest possible flexibility to the automakers. Exactly how they're going to do that, that's not entirely clear. And that's part of the controversy.

CURWOOD: What are some of the possible ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars?

POLAKOVIC: Proponents say that they'll be able to do this, perhaps, by having different sorts of refrigerants in cars, maybe lower profile tires that have less drag, maybe incentives for mass transit or ride share or greater use of alternative fuel vehicles. But there's a lot of engineers and scientists who say you're not going to be able to significantly reduce greenhouse gases unless you deal with the auto fuel efficiency and better mileage in cars. And that is a position that really rankles the auto industry.

CURWOOD: Where does the automobile industry stand on this CO2 tailpipe emissions bill?

POLAKOVIC: Well, they are very much opposed to it. First, they are looking at this as an attempt to preempt federal authority to deal with auto fuel efficiency standards for cars, and that is a topic that they have resisted for quite a long time. I think they're also looking at it as this isn't just California passing a bill. I think that they know that California has been a leader on setting auto tailpipe standards and they see this as, perhaps, the first state that will be regulating CO2 emissions from cars.

CURWOOD: Now, where does this bill, AB-1058, go from here now that it's cleared the State Assembly, the Lower House?

POLAKOVIC: Well, from here it will to go the State Senate. And it seems that it'll probably get a somewhat more favorable reception there. At the same time, though, I think that the bill is headed for amendment. Governor Davis has expressed some reservations about the bill in the sense that the Administration would like to see wider consensus and more support for the bill.

CURWOOD: Gary, I've just got to ask you this. I mean, what's going on in California these days? San Francisco's mayor wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent. Now, this bill happens. Is there something in the air out there or what?

POLAKOVIC: I think what you're seeing happening-- not just in California, but you're seeing it in some of the New England states, you're seeing this in some of the Canadian provinces--the fact of the matter is that most of the world and many of the states and even local governments in the United States are looking at climate change and saying, "You know, this is a real problem and this is something that we've got to reckon with." They turn to Washington, they look for leadership, and they're not seeing it. So, they're sort of doing the equivalent of "think globally and act locally," I suppose.

CURWOOD: Gary Polakovic covers the environment for The Los Angeles Times. Thanks, Gary.

POLAKOVIC: You're welcome, Steve.



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