California Gov Expected to Sign Auto-Emissions Bill

By Chris Rizo | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

Sacramento ( -- California could become the first state in the nation to restrict pollution from automobiles under legislation expected to be signed Monday by Gov. Gray Davis.

Critics say he is signing the bill only to shore up his environmental credentials in an election year.

The new law will require the California Air Resources Board to write regulations by 2005 to "achieve the maximum feasible" reductions of greenhouse-gas emissions from automobiles, including sport utility vehicles, minivans and pick up trucks.

The regulations, however, will not take effect until 2009. The Legislature will review the Air Resources Board (ARB) regulations, with an option of revising the suggestions before they are implemented.

Supporters of the bill hail it as an effort to reduce passenger vehicles' carbon dioxide and methane emissions, which some scientists believe contributes to global warming. But one Democratic strategist speaking on condition of anonymity said Davis has no choice but to sign the controversial bill, especially as the Green Party's gubernatorial candidate gains appeal among many environmentalists.

"Davis has to separate himself from (candidate) Peter Camejo," the Democrat legislative caucus consultant said. "He has the potential of taking a lot of votes from the governor, and Davis needs those desperately right now. Davis knows he's not going to lose moderate Democrats, but he is losing environmentalists."

Introduced by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, a Democrat, the legislation overcame a series of obstacles, including a media blitz, bankrolled largely by auto manufacturers and dealers, who strongly oppose the bill.

The well-known car dealer Cal Worthington, for one, warned Californians that the bill would add thousands of dollars onto the sticker price of sport utility vehicles and light duty trucks, which typically get below-average gas mileage, according to government environmental standards.

"There are a lot of myths out there. But the truth is that if we don't start doing something to reduce greenhouse gases, the problems for California could be enormous," said Assemblywoman Judy Chu, a Democrat, who rebuked the auto industry's efforts as a "smear campaign."

Supporters struggled for weeks to bring the bill to a final vote in the State Assembly.

"This law is a giant leap in the fight for cleaner cars. It will put us on the road to a cooler, safer climate for the people of California," said Ann Notthoff of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sponsored the bill.

The final bill includes provisions forbidding the Air Resources Board from imposing new fees or taxes.

"Automakers have been fighting rules requiring cleaner, safer cars for 40 years. But when the time comes to deliver the technology, they've succeeded every time," Notthoff said. "AB 1493 sends a clear message to Detroit that it's time to step up to the plate."

Car manufactures, however, say theirs is a better road to cleaner air.

"The state could better invest its resources and demonstrate its world leadership by more actively supporting the California Fuel Cell Partnership," which is a joint state government-industry program aimed at bringing fuel cell vehicles to market in the near future, says the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Fuel cell vehicles, powered by hydrogen, get twice the fuel economy of conventional internal combustion engines and produce only water vapor as emissions, according to the group.