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

California Emissions

Air Date: Week of

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California may soon be the first state to regulate vehicle greenhouse gases. Host Steve Curwood discusses the implications with Wall Street Journal reporter Jeffrey Ball.


CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. California is poised to become the first state to regulate the greenhouse gases that spew out of vehicle tailpipes. The California Senate recently passed a bill to place a cap on these emissions. And if Governor Gray Davis signs the bill into law, it’ll be the first of its kind in the nation. With me now to discuss this development is Jeffrey Ball, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Welcome.

BALL: Thanks for having me.

CURWOOD: So tell me, why is California taking this step?

BALL: Well, California has a long, long history of being more aggressive in environmental regulation writ large, but specifically, environmental regulation that affects cars and trucks than the federal government has been. California, for a number of years, has imposed tougher rules on other kinds of pollutants, regulated pollutants that come out of a tailpipe of a car or truck than the federal government has.

CURWOOD: But greenhouse gases?

BALL: Well, not greenhouse gases. I mean, I think that what California is doing now is, in a regulatory sense, following what its done before. And people who were in favor of this in California would tell you that they believe that California has specific environmental problems that it needs to address through more aggressive regulatory measures.

CURWOOD: What are the environmental advantages for California to put this measure into law?

BALL: Well, although the Gray Davis administration has been very careful not to pick a side yet on this bill, I spoke to his chief environmental official. And he made it pretty clear that the Davis administration supports the idea of California regulating greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

He makes the argument that California, first of all, if California were an independent nation unto itself, it would have the fifth largest economy in the world. He talks about California’s 1100 miles of coastline. He talks about, what he calls, the "snow cap" in California, which he believes is potentially at threat from global warming. So, the argument, on the part of Californians who want some sort of regulation of greenhouse gases, is that global warming poses a particularly acute risk to that state.

CURWOOD: What has the auto industry done, so far, in response to this bill?

BALL: The auto industry was busy fighting in Washington to stave off attempts to increase federal auto mileage standards. And it won that fight about a month ago when the Senate decided not to increase mileage standards significantly.

What happened in the meantime was that the environmentalists in California who had started this effort actually had been gaining quite a lot of steam in the legislature. And the auto industry sort of woke up and looked to the west coast, and said, "Oh my God. What’s happening out there?" And, the auto industry belatedly, in the last few weeks, has launched a pretty significant lobbying effort to derail this bill in California law.

The auto industry has taken out full-page ads in a lot of California newspapers. It’s begun to broadcast radio advertisements in California arguing against this bill. And, the jury is still out as to whether that’s going to work. This bill has passed both houses of the California legislature. It remains to be reconciled between those two houses. And then, the big question will be whether Governor Gray Davis, who faces re-election this year in California, will sign, what’s clearly going to be, a very controversial proposal.

CURWOOD: Now, if this bill does get signed into law, what are the options for the auto industry to contest it?

BALL: Well, the major option for the auto industry to contest it is to fight it in court, which pretty clearly would happen.

CURWOOD: New Hampshire passed a law in April to cap carbon dioxide and two other gas emissions from old electric power plants. What are we seeing here in the states?

BALL: Yeah, that’s very interesting. Of course, that’s different from California’s move, in the sense that what New Hampshire is doing is targeted at stationary power sources as opposed to automobiles.

But the trend is significant in the sense that environmentalists, I think, are increasingly coming to the opinion that they are not making the kind of headway they want to make in Washington and that they’re going to punt and try to make more headway in state capitols. Part of that is a question of where the industry has more political power.

CURWOOD: Or might that, in fact, end up forcing Washington’s hand. I mean, to use your football metaphor here, is this a punt, sort of a move to keep from losing ground? Or is it an end run, a way to score from the environmentalists’ perspective?

BALL: Yeah, it’s a fascinating question. I mean, I think that the– It’s certainly, in the interim, in the short-term, it is certainly viewed by environmentalists as a way to keep this issue alive. There’s clearly the hope from environmentalists that they will generate enough public pressure by succeeding in the states to force Washington’s hand. But in the short-term, perhaps make federal action less of an issue because there will be action by very large states.

CURWOOD: Jeffrey Ball is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Thanks for taking this time with us.

BALL: Thanks for having me.



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