New England led the way on clean cars; finally, the rest of the country follows

Apr 2, 2010 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

The average American spends 2 ½ hours a day in the car. That’s about 73,000 hours in a lifetime—and tons of havoc wreaked on the environment. The transportation sector is the fastest growing single source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the country, which pollute the air and contribute to global warming.

Tackling this challenge means both reducing the amount of driving by smarter development and building transit and reducing the pollution pouring out of each car. Four out of five of the New England states did the next best thing—reduced the amount that cars would be allowed to pollute in the first place.

Yesterday, the Obama Administration adopted those regulations nationwide, unveiling the first-ever federal clean cars standard that will limit the maximum level of GHGs that can be emitted by new cars and trucks. The new laws are expected to cut GHG emissions from new cars by 34 percent between models made in 2009 and those made in 2016—a change equivalent to taking 21.4 million of today’s cars off the road.

This decision is a major victory for CLF. When it comes to clean cars, we’ve been here since the beginning. For two decades CLF has fought for stronger limits on tailpipe emissions from cars.

Early national tailpipe emissions and fuel efficiency standards adopted in the 1960s and 70s improved the fuel economy of the average American vehicle from 13 miles per gallon in 1975 to 22.6 mpg in 1987 and began the process of reducing pollution from cars. Over the course of the 1980’s and 1990’s CLF worked in New England to ensure that our states in partnership with California would lead the nation in a journey towards lower emissions cars.

That journey took a new and interesting path in 2002 when the state of California adopted the Pavley standards, also known as the California Clean Car Standards, which set stringent emission standards for global warming pollutants  from cars.

CLF participated in the California process, urging that the standards be written in a manner that would allow them to be implemented in our states.  Once the standards were in place CLF then, working with allies in many states, launched a largely successful effort to get the standards adopted in the New England states.

It wasn’t easy. The automakers fought back by suing in both California and in New England. CLF served as “local counsel” to a coalition of environmental groups as we all worked with the states to achieved victory in two landmark cases in Vermont and Rhode Island in 2008, forcing automakers to comply with state emissions regulations and in effect implementing the “clean cars program” in every New England state except New Hampshire.

The momentum from the legal victories in Vermont and Rhode Island, as well as the parallel victory our allies achieved in court in California, provided key fuel for the effort that led to the adoption of those state standards on the national level.

But the work’s not done. Today, CLF is focused on pushing hard for the adoption and implementation of a Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) to gradually lower the carbon content of fuel. In 2008, CLF successfully worked with the governors of 11 northeast and mid-Atlantic states as they formulated and signed an agreement in which they pledged to develop an LCFS in the future.

CLF also continues to aggressively protect the right of the states to develop a statewide LCFS, and deter opponents who could threaten the longevity of those standards. CLF served as a third party legal counsel on behalf of the state of California in federal litigation challenging the state’s precedent-setting LCFS. Lastly, CLF is forcefully engaging with congressional staff, senators and representatives to fend off federal legislation that would thwart the ability of the states to continue to lead the LCFS effort and the next generation of car standards.

President Obama’s adoption of the California standards nationwide, ending a longtime battle between states and automakers, demonstrated to us at CLF that what happens here in New England really can serve as a model for other states, and that states have the power to create momentum for sweeping change that can influence policy on the federal level. CLF is proud that New England continues to lead the nation in taking action to identify and solve environmental problems and will continue to fight to ensure the states have, and use, the tools to provide a powerful model for national action.

CLF in the News:

New Federal Car Emissions Standards Hailed in Maine, Anne Mostue, MPBN
White House Follows Vermont’s Lead on Clean Cars, Paul Burns, vtdigger.org