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The View from NRDC

Car Trouble

U.S. car manufacturers have a long history of lying to the public. Right now, in California, they're doing it again.

As OnEarth goes to press, California's global warming bill -- A.B. 1058, the clean car bill -- is waiting for final ratification by the California assembly. It could be voted on in June or August. This is not just a great bill. It's a breakthrough on the world's most critical environmental problem.

The bill calls for the California clean air agency to set tough limits on greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles. If it passes, cars sold in the state, starting with the 2009 model year, will use new technology that reduces global warming pollution. This would be a tremendous improvement for California's tens of millions of exhaust pipes.

Californians want this bill. Seventy percent of the state supports rules to cut global warming pollution from tailpipes. More than a hundred public health and business groups have endorsed A.B. 1058. The California Nurses Association and the California Professional Firefighters want it. The California Teachers Association and the American Lung Association want it. All the state's major papers have endorsed it.

But the auto industry is trying to throw up roadblocks. Out-of-state car manufacturers are spending millions of dollars on ads to tell Californians that A.B. 1058 will mean gas taxes, mileage fees, a ban on SUVs, and limits on driving.

These are outrageous lies. Remember, this is the same industry that once said it couldn't make cars with seat belts. When Congress first passed fuel economy standards in the 1970s, the auto industry claimed that station wagons would be outlawed and soon we'd all be driving Ford Pintos.

The truth about A.B. 1058: The state air agency doesn't have the power to create gas taxes or mileage fees, and under this bill it still won't. And the bill actually prohibits the agency from setting limits on driving and from banning SUVs (or any other kind of vehicle). In fact, A.B. 1058 is a bill written with consumers in mind. It says that the new pollution limits must be "cost-effective," "feasible," and "economical to an owner or operator of a vehicle."

Automobiles are one of the two biggest sources of greenhouse gas pollution. If we want energy security, if we want to solve the global warming problem, we have to start making climate-friendly cars. This summer, Californians could drag the auto industry into the twenty-first century. All they have to do is remember who's telling the truth.

John H. Adams

Photo: Brennan Cavanaugh

OnEarth. Summer 2002
Copyright 2002 by the Natural Resources Defense Council