Industry slows tide of state CO2 rules

hstoffer@crain.com

In the past three weeks, lawmakers in Florida and Arizona have voted against adopting California-style greenhouse gas rules for cars and trucks.

In Minnesota, a bill to impose such rules appeared dead in the state Legislature late last week. Utah and Montana also have backed off their plans to impose rules.

Automakers and their allies are claiming victories in their stepped-up efforts to convince states that a tough national fuel economy standard is better than state-by-state regulation. The rules are aimed mainly at carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning fuel.

Environmental groups disagree with the automakers' analysis, but the state actions signal that tough battles remain to be fought over what has become the biggest and most contentious public policy issue facing the industry.

Dan Becker, a longtime advocate of higher fuel economy standards and state greenhouse gas rules, said industry claims of victory are premature. In Florida, he said, lawmakers merely want a say before rules are imposed. Becker said Florida lawmakers objected to Gov. Charlie Crist's effort to enact the rules without their approval.

Becker, a consultant to environmental groups, predicted that Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano's veto late last week of a bill to derail rules there won't be overridden by the Legislature. He claimed the industry made headway in Minnesota only by "scurrilously lying" about the effects of state rules on ethanol use.

Becker predicted that courts or the next president will allow states to begin enforcing rules. By that time, he said, nearly half of the United States will be subject to California-style rules.

California's standard effectively requires vehicles to average more than 40 mpg by 2020. A new federal law requires an average of at least 35 mpg by then.

The Bush administration has blocked all state rules. But last week, Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, hinted at a possible compromise. McCurdy said the early days of the next administration will provide a window of opportunity for a comprehensive solution.

Such a compromise could allow California to continue its traditional role as a laboratory for emissions controls, said McCurdy, whose group represents the Detroit 3, Toyota and six other automakers.

But Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, told reporters she would not support a California-only plan. Nichols appeared on a panel with McCurdy at an SAE International conference in Washington last week.

Said Nichols: "We do not want to negotiate away other states' rights." c

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