WASHINGTON - Automakers will have to take on the Terminator if they keep their vow to fight California's landmark global warming law.
So says the state's chief clean air regulator, Air Resources Board Chairman Alan Lloyd.
At a clean air conference here, Lloyd said he is convinced Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's new Republican governor, will defend vigorously the law against expected legal challenges.
The actor-turned-politician promised as much in his successful campaign to recall and replace Gov. Gray Davis, Lloyd said.
"The governor said he will support and defend it," he said. "It was a very strong statement."
Lloyd's board, called CARB, will produce regulations this year to implement the law's requirement that greenhouse gases emitted by cars and trucks be reduced by the "maximum feasible and cost-effective" amount, beginning with the 2009 model year. The main target is carbon dioxide, which many scientists say is accumulating in the atmosphere and trapping heat.
CARB staff proposals are expected in May. Final rules are to be adopted in September, the chairman said.
Waiting for ripeness
Automakers and California dealers lobbied against the bill vigorously when it was under consideration by the state legislature. It was passed in July 2002 and signed by then-Gov. Davis, a Democrat.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said then that it would challenge the law. The group argued that it is an improper attempt by a state to assume a responsibility held by the federal government - the regulation of vehicle fuel economy.
The alliance has taken no action so far. One reason is because there is nothing official to challenge until the implementing rules are adopted.
The alliance position has not changed, spokesman Eron Shosteck said last week.
To meet the mandate, "you have to combust less fuel," proving the law is an illegal fuel economy measure, Shosteck said. He agrees that Schwarzenegger's support is unambiguous.
The conflict has national implications. In a brief interview, Lloyd said he is concerned that the federal government will join any legal fight against the state rules.
But he noted that the new governor already has proven his commitment to defending California clean air rules - against fellow Republicans, if need be. He led a fight in November against a GOP-inspired move in Washington to exempt makers of small engines, such as those on lawn and garden equipment, from tougher state emissions standards.
The record so far
"He personally stepped in and made calls to key senators, and created significant pressure," Lloyd said.
A compromise allows California to write tougher small-engine standards but prevents other states from adopting the same rules.
In any case, people in the automobile industry are pleased with some of Schwarzenegger's other actions. He rolled back a vehicle registration tax that had been a drag on car and truck sales in the nation's biggest market, and he is interested in scrapping older vehicles that contribute disproportionately to dirty air.