Regulatory Commissars

Will California Dictate National Emissions Standards?

Golden State regulators are fighting Trump to keep Obama's standards on cars.

Brian Mark Weber · Oct. 5, 2018

The State of California seems bent on forcing the rest of the nation to adopt its emissions standards and buy more electric cars.

Fortunately, the Trump administration is trying to revoke the state’s power to not only exempt itself from federal guidelines but, because of its size and influence, practically dictate those guidelines to the rest of us. Reuters reports, “California has long been allowed under a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency waiver to set its own, stricter vehicle emissions rules to fight heavy smog in Los Angeles and other urban areas.”

Part of California’s approach to stricter emissions standards stems from the state’s microclimate, which allows smog to flourish, particularly in heavily populated southern California. The state’s strict emissions standard thus addresses a very local issue. So why should residents of other states have to pay more to clean up Los Angeles pollution?

It’s no wonder that California regulators voted last Friday to ignore the Trump administration’s decision to weaken the standards and instead follow those put in place by Barack Obama. The California Air Resources Board, which regulates the state’s air quality, reaffirmed its commitment to these Obama-era federal standards, but the Trump administration is trying to roll them back due to higher costs for consumers.

Automotive News reports, “The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing General Motors, Volkswagen AG, Toyota Motor Corp., Ford Motor Co. and others, again urged California and the Trump administration to reach agreement to retain nationwide emissions rules and avoid a prolonged legal battle.” The AAM is a powerful lobbying organization that represents many major automakers. Unfortunately, they want the Trump administration to side with California and impose the state’s strict standards on the rest of the country.

Eric Peters, writing at The Federalist, believes, “If [the Trump administration] does so, it would have the effect of making California the boss of the rest of us, because the car industry can no longer afford to build one set of cars for California and another for the rest of the country. Thus, what a handful of bureaucrats in the California apparat decree threatens to bind the whole country.”

Now, it’s no surprise that car manufacturers would embrace tougher emissions standards; the California car market is simply too significant to ignore. Simply put, they’d rather have Americans foot the bill for expensive fuel-efficient cars and electric cars than lose money themselves. And now that taxpayers are actually subsidizing car manufacturers (Tesla made $800 million from emissions credits over the last three years), it’s no wonder that we’re seeing more electric cars on the roads. Those generous federal and state tax credits for people who buy electric cars? Yep, they’re subsidized by taxpayers as well.

But aren’t electric cars worth the price of reducing air pollution? Not so fast, says Robyn Beck writing at Politico: “Widespread adoption of electric vehicles nationwide will likely increase air pollution compared with new internal combustion vehicles. You read that right: more electric cars and trucks will mean more pollution.” Beck adds that proponents of electric vehicles “fail to consider just how clean and efficient new internal combustion vehicles are.” And remember that the energy needed to charge electric cars often comes from power plants fueled by coal, something that’s likely to remain unchanged for several decades. Consider, too, the environmentally suspect nickel mining that’s required for electric-car batteries.

Like solar power and wind farms, the dream of charging up an electric car while grabbing a latte seems too good to be true. And it is. The reality is that the electric car movement is propped up by taxpayers, government policies, and environmental lobbyists rather than being driven by the free market or by the realities of new technologies.

The battle over emissions standards is getting serious, and California isn’t letting up. The state’s Democrat governor, Jerry Brown, wants to ban internal combustion engines by 2040 (as do Great Britain and France, by the way). If the Trump administration isn’t able to roll back these extreme environmental regulations on vehicles, the rest of us will be paying a hefty price. More ominously, we’ll be giving one state the power to determine national environmental policy and tell us what kind of cars we can drive.

Now that’s un-American.

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