California sets milestone by cutting car emissions

The first ever regulations intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and prevent environmental damage from global warming in the US were passed this week by the state of California.

A unanimous vote from members of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) saw the regulations adopted, which require exhaust emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants such as NOx and particulates in California to be reduced by 22% by 2012, and 30% by 2016.

Costs for the added technology to make cars more environmentally friendly were estimated by CARB to reach around US$325 per vehicle for 2012, and US$1050 per vehicle for 2016. However, due to lower subsequent operating costs, the board stated these costs would be offset, providing consumers with overall savings.

Environmental organisations throughout the US were ecstatic at the news, according to vehicle policies director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Roland Hwang, who welcomed the historic move.

“California has made history by adopting the most important motor vehicle pollution requirement since the catalytic converter in the 1970s. The air board’s decision will be remembered as a major milestone in the effort to fight global warming,” Mr Hwang said.

However, not everyone was happy, as the auto industry stated it would challenge the standards in court, claiming they will cause a sharp increase in car prices. The auto industry has already been criticised by environmental groups in the US for not actively joining the effort to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Mr Hwang believed it would be foolish for car manufacturers to try to overturn the new global warming standards, saying they would lose in a court of law as well as a court of public opinion.

“California stands on firm legal ground to regulate air pollution, as it’s been doing for more than 40 years,” he stated. “Automakers can’t afford to alienate consumers in America’s largest auto market who overwhelmingly support the clean car law. It’s time for the auto industry to innovate, not litigate.”

Chairman of CARB, Dr Alan Lloyd, said the regulations would change the way cars were built in the US, as well as helping to cut significantly public health risks posed by air pollution:

“This landmark decision sets a course for California that is likely to be copied throughout the US and other countries,” he said.

The new standards will be adopted by the end of 2004.

By Jane Kettle

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