Automakers might be forgiven if they smiled in secret agreement with a proposal to abolish the California Air Resources Board, or CARB. The agency has given them headaches for nearly 40 years.
But industry officials insist their companies played no part in getting CARB added to a list of state government bodies in California that an influential review panel thinks should be scrapped.
"Absolutely not," says Deb Morrissett, vice president of regulatory affairs at the Chrysler group.
But if the review had urged California to adopt the same clean air rules that apply in much of the of the country, Morrisett adds, "I'd throw a party."
Instead, if the report's proposals were adopted, administration of the state's strict clean air rules and proposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions would be turned over to a new state Department of Environmental Protection.
"I don't know what difference it would make," says Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The alliance represents the Big 3 and six import-brand automakers.
Bergquist says she knows of no contact between industry lobbyists and the review commission. The panel's report will be the subject of public hearings in the next few months. It then will become a government reorganization plan for the legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Changing entrenched bureaucracies is tough. Eliminating CARB would be even tougher.
Environmental groups credit the agency with being a worldwide pacesetter for clean air regulation. The board has strong support in the Democratic-controlled state legislature.
Dave Hermance, executive engineer at Toyota Motor Corp.'s technical center in Gardena, Calif., says he fears "what would replace" CARB.
"We may not always like what they propose and implement," Hermance said last week at the Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich. "But after years of working with them, we've come to understand what they do, and they've learned from us."
CARB is developing rules that would require automakers to cut their vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions in California by 30 percent over a decade. Other states could adopt those regulations.
Schwarzenegger, a Republican, commissioned the government performance review. He has not reacted to the long list of proposals in the 2,500-page report.
The report says independent state boards and commissions such as CARB are not accountable to a department secretary or governor. That, it argues, makes it "difficult to implement a coherent environmental protection policy."
Senior Writer Dale Jewett and Special Correspondent Michelle Krebs contributed to this report