Auto executives who are tempted to cheer the proposed extinction of the California Air Resources Board might recall a homely proverb: Be careful what you wish for.
A commission named by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger calls for the regulatory board's demise as part of streamlining the state's government. A massive new state department of environmental protection would assume its duties.
In CARB's 37 years, its independent status has led it down some questionable paths. For instance, CARB wants to mandate a 30 percent cut in vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions. That would put California in the business of regulating fuel economy by another name. That's the federal government's job.
But CARB has done many important things, too. It has been a leader in prodding the industry to curb pollution from cars and trucks. The air in the Los Angeles basin - and nationwide - is a lot cleaner as a result.
Largely because of CARB's work, California has led the states in promoting fuel cell technology. And recently CARB has shown some flexibility. Agency staffers would give the industry two more years, until the 2016 model year, to phase in the proposed greenhouse gas reductions in California. That ought to encourage industry officials at least to talk more with CARB about solutions, rather than merely try to pre-empt or dismiss its work.
If air quality regulation shifts to an executive state department, technical decisions might fall to partisan political appointees rather than the scientists who work for CARB. Even some industry officials who have fought the board concede that they would rather do business with the devil they know, so to speak.
Life without CARB probably would be chaos.