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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Oregon Takes Key Step Towards Joining California in Stricter Emissions Standards

As the Oregonian reports this week, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski has ordered the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to write a California-type emissions standard that would apply to 2009 model year cars and light trucks. Vehicles made and sold before the 2009 model year would not be affected.

Kulongoski has made it a priority for Oregon to adopt the stricter tailpipe emissions standards and has previously vowed that he would bypass the state legislature, who have opposed such a standard, if necessary. This move seems to indicate that he is still resolved to enact the new standards executively.

"All of us -- individuals and institutions -- have played a role in contributing to the effects of global warming, and we each have a responsibility to curb those effects for future generations," Kulongoski said in a letter to Department of Environmental Quality Director Stephanie Hallock.

The Oregonian reports that the proposed rule to be drafted by DEQ must still be approved by the state's Environmental Quality Commission. However, this is a policy panel appointed by the governor and is not expected to be a roadblock. A Kulongoski spokeswoman, Anna Richter Taylor, said the governor wants a temporary emissions rule by the end of the year. The commission would then begin a process, including public hearings, to convert the temporary rule into permanent emissions standards.

A potential roadblock does looms however in Marion County Circuit Court. Republican lawmakers and auto industry representatives have filed a lawsuit there claiming that neither the governor nor the DEQ has the authority to adopt California's tailpipe rules when the Legislature has voted to forbid it - the legislature recently included an item in the budget Marion County Circuit Judge Mary Mertens James has promised a "timely" decision in the case.

The Legislature had previously included a prohibition against adopting the California standards in Oregon's 2005-07 budget, but Governor Kulongoski vetoed that section of the bill. The issue in the court case is whether the governor's line item veto authority, which allows him to strike specific spending items from budget bills, also extends to policy in the bills.

Public support seems to be behind the bill despite opposition from the Legislature and thousands of Oregonians, including those representing conservation as well as faith groups, have written the governor and DEQ urging Oregon to adopt the California standards, which are tougher than the federal standards [myself being one of them].

Adopting the California standards would not only impose tighter restrictions on already regulated emissions like sulpher-oxides and nitrous-oxide but would also include the new CO2 emissions standards recently implemented by California and subsequently adopted by a number of other states (the latest being New York).

Kulongoski's efforts would not only effect Oregon as Washington has already passed legislation adopting the California standards, but only if Oregon does so as well. Oregon thus remains the crucial linch-pin in creating a unified region spanning the west coast of the United States from Canada to Mexico that would have tighter restrictions on criteria pollutants as well as carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle tailpipes.

A DEQ analysis found that if Oregon adopted California's standards, it could reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars and light-duty trucks 18 percent by 2020 and 27 percent by 2030.

I personally applaud Kulongoski's bold efforts to adopt these standards (I am a lifetime resident of Oregon, BTW). This would have a serious impact on our state's GHG emissions profile as well as Washington's as their fate seems to be tied in this matter, at least for now, to ours. Let's hope the Marion County Court finds in the governor's favor and no major roadblocks obstruct these standards from being adopted.

Opponents of the measure, including Republicans in the State Legislature and auto industry representatives claim that the measures will add $3,000 to the cost of a new car in an attempt to scare consumers and would-be supporters of these standards. That cost has been repeadetly disputed by many including California Air Resources Board, and it must be remebered that any extra costs would almost certainly be recouped in fuel savings due to the increase in vehicle fuel economy that would be necessary to meet CO2 emissions standards.

The auto industry is fighting this measure hard, but they now seem to be assailed from all sides. California, Vermont, New York and now Oregon and Washington have adopted the new standards and many others including Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island , New Mexico, and Arizona are considering adopting the standards as well. With consistent efforts from a number of states, it seems only a matter of time until the auto industry gives up. Once enough states adopt these standards, there will be little incentive for auto manufacturers to maintain two sets of vehicle models (one for states with CA standards and one for those with federal standards) and will likely cave in and begin manufacturing all their cars to meet the stricter California standards. That seems like good news for everyone to me.

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