Carmakers fuming after emissions bill passed
SACRAMENTO — The state Assembly handed automakers a major defeat Monday, passing — by a single vote — a bill to make California the first state to target auto emissions in the fight against global warming.
The 41-30 vote — a bare majority of the 80-seat house — approved Senate amendments to the bill, sending it to Gov. Gray Davis.
Environmentalists called the measure one of the most significant “climate change” bills ever passed in the United States.
“This is the biggest environmental legislation in 20 years,” said Nancy Ryan, an economist with the advocacy group Environmental Defense. “We have an administration in Washington with a head-in-the-sand attitude toward climate change. This action is one that other states can follow.”
The legislation, AB1493, would force automakers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from their light trucks and cars beginning in 2009. California has long forced carmakers to limit poisonous and polluting emissions, but Monday’s bill is the first to target emissions of carbon dioxide, a natural “greenhouse gas” considered a contributor to global warming.
“We’re proud of California’s lawmakers who faced down the ‘Chicken Littles’ in the auto and oil industries,” said Russell Long, director of the San Francisco-based environmental group Bluewater Network, which led a coalition of groups supporting the bill, including Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Bluewater Network estimates that California’s vehicle fleet contributes nearly 60 percent of the state’s share of greenhouse gases.
Carmakers, who last year sold more than 2 million new vehicles to Californians, have hinted they would file a lawsuit if the bill passed. The industry has also charged the bill would eventually limit sales of popular minivans, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.
“The fight is not over. The governor has to take his position. We’ll see what will happen,” said Phil Isenberg, lobbyist for the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
“This has been a bill that has never gotten a lot of votes,” he said.
Monday’s vote closed a bitter months-long political struggle between 14 of the world’s largest auto manufacturing corporations and the California Legislature. It also followed a weekend “gut and amend” parliamentary maneuver by the state Senate that hastily produced a new version of a previously stalled bill and rushed it to the Assembly.
Senators approved it 23-16 on Saturday.
The new bill specifically bans the state Air Resources Board from forcing manufacturers to build smaller, lighter vehicles or new taxes on gasoline and vehicles. undercutting a multi-million-dollar auto industry advertising campaign suggesting those possibilities.
That campaign, aimed at the nation’s largest new vehicle market and featuring one of the state’s best known car dealers, Cal Worthington, produced more than 100,000 letters, e-mails and phone messages to the Capitol in recent weeks. In early June that blitz stopped an earlier version of the bill just as it seemed certain of victory.
The bill passed Monday gives the ARB until 2005 to adopt regulations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle exhaust. The regulations wold take effect in 2009, giving automakers four years to meet the new requirements.
Davis, who must sign the bill for it to become law, did not indicate his position Monday. He said through spokesman Steve Maviglio that the bill represents good public policy but he would have to review it in its final form before making a decision.
Assembly Republicans mounted a furious floor campaign against the bill, charging Democrats with “sneaking” and “ramming” the bill through without holding extensive new committee hearings.
“This isn’t to delay the process. This is to have a process,” said Assemblyman Tony Strickland, R-Thousand Oaks. He called the bill a “war on drivers in California.”
Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn, D-Saratoga, countered, “I don’t think there’s a better legacy we can leave to our children and our grandchildren and their children than to have a significant impact on air quality in California.”
The bill’s supporters include some of the nation’s biggest environmental organizations, California’s largest cities, Silicon Valley executives and celebrities from Barbara Streisand to Robert Redford. Pavley’s office also confirmed that U.S. Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and John Kerrey, D-Mass., wrote recently to California’s legislative leaders and Davis, urging support.
A June survey by the Public Policy Institute of California indicated that 81 percent of 2,029 adults surveyed support the bill.