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Federal Legislation Would Change Clean Air Act to Bar States from Setting Greenhouse Gas Standards for Vehicles

Legislation under discussion in the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce would, if eventually enacted, amend the language of the Federal Clean Air Act to block states from establishing standards to limit the emission of greenhouse gases from automobiles.

The discussion draft of legislation submitted by Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality Chair Rick Boucher (D-VA) would prohibit the head of the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing the waiver required for a state to impose auto pollution standards if the new requirements are “designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The issuance of a federal waiver is a well-established process with decades of legal precedent in California’s setting of its own, more stringent emissions regulations. The issuance of the waiver is also the next step in California’s quest—now 18-months old—to proceed with implementing its greenhouse gas limits on new light-duty vehicles beginning in 2009. Eleven other states have adopted the California regulations. (Earlier post.)

Specifically, the new legislation under discussion would amend Section 209(b)(1) of the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7543) to read (new language is in boldface):

...No such waiver shall be granted if the Administrator finds that-

  1. the determination of the State is arbitrary and capricious,

  2. such State does not need such State standards to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions,

  3. such State standards and accompanying enforcement  procedures are not consistent with section 202(a) of this part, or

  4. such State standards are designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A hearing by the Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality on the discussion draft is scheduled for Thursday, and will be webcast. The legislation will also be considered for inclusion in energy legislation scheduled for markup during June by both the Subcommittee and the full Committee, according to Boucher.

The draft is meant to stimulate discussion on several critical issues affecting US energy security: the production of alternative fuels and the infrastructure required to deliver them; the impact of motor vehicle use on energy consumption and supply; and the need to recognize the interdependent relationship between fuels and vehicles by treating them as a system.

—Representative Boucher

Among the other proposals included in the Discussion Draft are:

  • Implementing an Alternative Fuels Standard (AFS) that would begin in 2013 and mandate the use of 35 billion gallons of alternative fuel by 2025. In addition to corn-based and cellulosic ethanol, the bill would encourage and support the development of coal-to-liquids synthetic fuels as well as natural gas and electricity.

    The bill establishes compliance value multipliers for each alternative fuel to determine the extent to which each fuel satisfies the volume obligation. Corn ethanol, for example, has a compliance value of 1.0, while gas-to-liquids and coal-to-liquids fuels have values of 1.5. In the early years (2013-2015), cellulosic ethanol has a compliance value of 2.5. This drops to 1.0 in the longer term. Electricity and gaseous hydrogen have values of 2.5 from 2013 though 2020, then dropping to 1.0. Butanol makes it on the list as well, with a value of 1.3 for the entire period.

  • Establishing a Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). The LCFS is based on the volumes of the AFS. Twelve billions gallons of the alternative fuel required by that standard are to have a carbon intensity equal to 80% of the carbon intensity of gasoline. Of the remainder of the alternative fuel required by that standard for a given year, 50% will have a carbon intensity equal to 50% of the carbon intensity of gasoline; and 50% will have a carbon intensity equal to 25% of the carbon intensity of gasoline.

  • Developing programs to assist retailers in the installation or conversion of fuels infrastructure to alternative fuels use.

  • Mandating an increase in fuel economy to 36 mpg US by model year 2021 for passenger cars and 30 mpg US after model year 2024 for light-duty trucks. In addition to expressing standards in terms of miles per gallon, the bill would also require the expressions of standards in average grams per mile of carbon dioxide emissions. Automakers would have to increase the production of dual-fueled vehicles (e.g., flex-fuel vehicles) from 45% of new vehicles in 2012 to 85% in 2020.

Resources:

  • Discussion Drafts Released June 1, 2007: Title I -- Fuels

  • Clean Air Act

  • June 1, 2007 memorandum to Members from Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality Chairman Rick Boucher

Comments

Andrey

US have highly integrated energy market (fuels, electricity, etc.) and common market of vehicles. California (and other states adopting California standards) was granted right to regulate motor vehicle emissions directly affecting local air quality – smog forming and PM emissions. Emission of GHG are not local problem, it is not even strictly national problem. It is clearly understandable that Congress will be reluctant to delegate to individual states tremendous power to regulate practically every aspect of national economy, balkanizing the whole US energy market. I posted it before, and repeat it now: Congress will be reluctant to delegate regulation of GHG emissions even to federal agency – EPA, DOE, or whatever. Too much power to one agency and too less power to legislators. There is other way to regulate GHG emissions, if desirable: lobby for national legislation through California&Coalition Senators and Representatives.

As I said before, it is extremely hard to prohibit, severe restrict, or impose strict regulation on something in US. You know, there is such small thing as personal freedom. But it is easy to any level of government to promote something, as long as it is done on their account. Tax credits to hybrid vehicles, alternative fuels, renewable energy – list is very wide. If Californians want to do something to “save the planet” – fine! Reduce state taxes on fuel efficient vehicles, alternative fuels, build more commuter rail and subway, allow LNG terminals and subsidize NG vehicles and fueling infrastructure. But on their own account, not by money of Detroit or Huston. I would imagine the scream from California if some states impose standards for less violent movies or more reliable PC software…

BTW, legislation proposed is not legislation passed. Freakishly enough, another Democrat (Chairman of House Natural Resource Committee, Rep. Nick Rahall from W. Virginia) proposed legislation practically prohibiting construction of new wind power installations and practically demolishing existing ones (wind turbines harm birds). It is so stupid, I can’t believe if it is true:

http://www.libsearthwatch.com/?p=452

lensovet

wow this is nuts.

eric


This is an awful piece of legislation. It seems like the entire Federal government is completely beholden to lobbyists of one sort or another.

A year or so ago, someone I know (a Republican, actually) suggested that one way to create a disincentive to driving fuel inefficient vehicles is to lower the speed limit for the big SUVs (technically thy are trucks, and my recollection is that was the legal distinction he was thinking of). Unfortunately that would be a rather imprecise tool and wouldn't be as effective as other measures to lower GHG.

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Tom

California is a large market due to the sheer number of residents. California has some of the most restrictive clean air legislation in the country. Automobiles sold in California have in the past needed to have special provisions / versions. Is it really surprising that the Automobile manufacturers would dislike that?
The people of California have spoken with their votes. They elected officials with the expectation that they would protect their environment. For hundreds of years this country has had both federal laws and state laws. So long as the state laws do not interfere with the federal laws there *should* be no problem.
The clean air standards that California has meet or exceed those mandated on a Federal level. Why then should they even need to apply for a waver? Does that mean that federal legislature mandates we EMIT a quota of greenhouse gas? Heck if they can mandate this on a state level what's to stop them from mandating something on a personal level.
California has the RIGHT to choose to do more than the minimum required. This is called the "Clean Air Act" ... lets not loose the spirit of the law. I have no compassion for any company who says ... aww but gee this looks difficult. So stop selling cars in California! If you want to sell them there then deal with it .. good greif ... sometimes it feels like dealing with 5 year olds.

JMartin

Everyone assumes this is intended to benefit the auto industry. Boucher is from southwest Virginia -- coal country. Yes, congress is beholden to contributors, but also beholden to their electorate, and Boucher has always looked out for his.

If the Feds were actually doing anything about GHG emissions, then this would be a non-issue and we would all see that there is a need for standard regulation in the country. Unfortunately all those good "States Rights" Republicans will be sure to restrict States Rights in the name of, uh, in the name of -- oh I am sure they will think of something.

SJC

It is one thing to take care of your state and another the country. Doing what is right for the country used to be called Statesmanship. A seemingly contradictory term, but something we lack these days.

When they build bridges to nowhere to benefit the state but harm the nation, that is wrong. States should be able to decide what vehicle are registered in their state. If they want to increase the registration fees for large SUVs or make them drive 55 mph, that should be the choice of that state.

Tom

What I want to know is who exactly is responsible for adding that line regarding greenhouse gas emissions to the legislation. I think that should be on their permanent public record.

Anyone know how to figure out who is the responsible party for sponsoring that addition?

Harvey

Rafael,

Unconstitutional?

You are frequently correct but you really missed on this one. California and other state used the clean air act (the act) to try to get EPA to allow them to regulate GHG. EPA responded that the act gave no authority to regulate GHG. The supreme court (capriciously) legislated from the bench - stating the act did allow - even required - GHG regulation.
(Based on the parsing of the act by the majority , their grammar teachers must have rolled over in their graves.)

Balance of powers - Congress has the opportunity to help the court understand their true intent by clarifying the act.

Had the court ruled that a constitutional issue was at the root, then a law could be overturned subsequently as unconstitutional. In this case the ruling was based not on the constitution but rather on the clean air act.
But even had the issue been a constitutional one, a constitutional amendment would overrule any court ruling. (Of course, that would require action by state legislatures as well as action by congress.)

Regardless - it seems unlikely that this proposal will be passed in a Democrat-controlled congress despite the fact that a Democrat committee chair proposed it. (He will get some brownie points from his supporters & coal-mining constituents for the effort.)

rhapsodyinglue

It's time for a little cigar puffing, testosterone fueled, gubernator action. Hopefully Arnie will show those girlie men in Washington a thing or two.

JMartin

Yeh, Arnold can sign a bill and force the emitters to act now, or suffer. Let the Feds sue him. That will tie things up in court for 20 or so years, and meanwhile the poluters will be on the sidelines while those embracing change will be advancing technology and making profits.

It seems to me that the shift away from GHG emissions presents all kinds of economic opportunities the country should embrace. Big oil will adjust. That is what the profit motive is all about.

andrichrose

you do kind of wonder if these people are even living on the
same planet as the rest of us !

rockytop

What happened to the constitution? Any powers not given to the federal government automatically belong to the states. Where in the constitution were the feds given this power? The bastards are writing their own constitution again.

C Harget

I think the Commerce Clause that allows the Feds to regulate interstate trade (ya can't keep your acid rain in your own state, can ya?) does allow the EPA to regulate emissions. That is precisely why GHG are approporiate and mandatory for the EPA to regulate. How are drouts, killing coral reefs, floods, rising oceans, and potentially erasing major cities (Miami, New Orleans, Amsterdam, lots of South East Asia, etc.) any less damaging to the environment than acid rain?

That said, California's air quality laws predate Federal Laws and have the grandfathered right to exist. California has substantial reasons for wanting to set its own stadards higher, and yes, this would probably cause a really big turf war if some line-item tried to rescind that.

The point most of us are making here, I think, is that such a line-item should not even make it out of the subcommittee, whose members I listed above. Write them!

GreenCarGuy

The present administration has an odd sense of what the state's responsibilities and rights are.

Hurricane Katrina was a Gulf Coast problem affecting Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. It was not a large hurricane hitting the continental U.S. It was up to the states to handle it. But when it comes to deciding other issues, the states have no rights.

marcus

I really don't know how these things work. Henry Waxman is on that list and is a Californian democrat closest to where I live (although he is not my representative).

Now check out this:

http://oversight.house.gov/story.asp?ID=1119

What gives?

C Harget

Good news. This item made the Washington Post editorial page. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/07/AR2007060701952.html

They point out That Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a Californian likely to fight this measure. Still, your nearest rep needs all the support they can get on this. Write whoever is close.

marcus

I'm glad its made it to the press. I've contacted both Barbara Boxer and my local rep.

marcus

Somehow this needs to hit the headlines around the country perhaps the NYT or CNN. The question is if only 10 other states want to copy California, then how likely is it that senators from the other 39 states are going to help oppose this bill?

James

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