A good deal is struck in Washington – give the states some credit

Seth Kaplan

In Washington, D.C., a good deal has been announced bringing together the Federal government, the state of California and auto manufacturers.  As our friends at the Union of Concerned Scientists note, these standards will:

  • Cut oil consumption by as much as 1.5 million barrels per day — 23 billion gallons of gasoline annually — by 2030. That is equivalent to U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2010.
  • Cut carbon pollution by as much as 280 million metric tons (MMT) in 2030, which is equivalent to shutting down 72 coal-fired power plants.
  • Lower fuel expenditures at the pump by over $80 billion in 2030 — even after paying for the cost of the necessary technology, consumers will still clear $50 billion in savings that year alone.

The real story behind this settlement is about a fundamental choice between two paths.  One path was the road taken, where the emissions standards for cars and trucks are integrated with mile-per-gallon (MPG) standards and California and the Federal Government both adopt and agree to the standards.

The other path was to return to the state of affairs that prevailed prior to 2009.  At that point, a fleet of states had adopted standards for greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks first developed and adopted by California. This came about because of the unique ability of California under the federal Clean Air Act to adopt its own standards and for other states to follow suit.  With the laudable decision by the Federal government (after legal challenges to the standards were shot down in court in California, Vermont, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.) to adopt a modified version of those state-based standards and the integration of those emissions standards with the MPG rules, three different regulatory systems were folded together into one positive package.

California, and the states inclined to follow it (there were 13 at the time of that deal back in 2009), had a deserved presence at the table in Washington.  If the new federal standards were strong enough, the states could simply go their own way – but that wasn’t needed, and hopefully will not be necessary going forward as the new rules are fleshed out and implemented.  Having two sets of vehicle standards in the U.S. was not a terrible thing when we lived with it for 25 years – but having one good standard for the nation is better.

A good deal was struck in Washington (a nice thing to be able to say!) and the power of the states to chart their own course did not need to be invoked – but the fact that power exists, along with the other other good elements of the Clean Air Act (a great law being attacked daily in Congress) helps move us towards cleaner air and better cars.



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