Everybody Wins with Obama’s Clean Cars Plan, Including a California Teacher

Tuesday I went to the White House to hear President Obama announce his plan to issue new greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for cars and trucks. This plan, based on California's groundbreaking emissions law, makes everybody a winner.

Drivers will save money when they fill up their tanks. The auto industry will become more competitive by making the clean, high-mileage cars of the future. America will reduce its oil dependence and stabilize its national security. And our planet will have fewer global warming emissions to contend with.

NRDC and other environmental groups have long called for federal regulations of global warming emissions from cars. But it is heartening to see the auto industry finally back such an effort as well.

Car makers welcome Obama's plan because it creates nationally uniform standards. No matter what state you buy a car in, by the year 2016 it will release 30 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than it does today.

I was pleased to be invited to the White House for this historic breakthrough. It was an honor to be with President Obama, Governor Schwarzenegger, and other leaders who support this clean car transformation.

But in my view, the real hero of the day was Fran Pavley, the former state legislator who wrote the California law upon which this national plan is modeled.

Pavley spent 25 years teaching history at a middle school north of Los Angeles. Over the years, she had seen many of her students suffer from asthma, using inhalers in class and missing school. Hot summer days made the air quality worse in her community. As Fran learned the connections between carbon dioxide, global warming, and rising temperatures, she decided to do something about it.

When she went to the state legislature in 2000, she used her first term in office to draft--along with NRDC--a bill that would slash global warming pollution from cars and trucks. It was a noble effort, but few in the legislature took it seriously. Here was this freshman legislator taking on the automobile industry. How could she win?

She won by using her main skill: teaching. She educated the other legislators, one at a time, about why global warming was so important to the future of California. As one of her fellow state senators said, "You know she doesn't have any leverage, except for the truth." Once other legislators started learning the truth, they were persuaded.

In 2002, California passed what is now know as the Pavley bill, which cut global warming emissions from vehicles by 30 percent.

Now, thanks to Pavley remarkable, underdog victory, all of us will win the benefits of cleaner air, better cars, and lower gas bills.