Rush Hour

In a June 11 Rose Garden speech, President George W. Bush detailed his plan to address the perceived threat of man-made global warming. Wisely, the dominant theme of the speech was his pledge of financial resources in pursuit of scientific knowledge. President Bush made clear that until the science better describes what is happening with the earth's climate, the U.S. would not risk the economic hit the Kyoto Protocol and other energy suppression measures would deliver. Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring gas that is also produced by releasing fossil-based energy. And human activities contribute approximately 3% of this “greenhouse gas” (GHG) in the atmosphere. The global warming theory says this contribution, if not checked, imperils the environment and our health. Not surprisingly many in the scientific community are skeptical of this view. As a result, the administration has moved slowly on energy suppression measures designed to reduce CO2 emissions. It will soon release its first assessment of the major science and economic questions that must be answered prior to taking federal action. But the California legislature can't wait for that. It is poised to bow to environmental pressure groups, advancing the first domestic component of what Kyoto would require — a mandatory carbon dioxide (CO2) suppression regime. The San Francisco Chronicle describes “a last-ditch duel with the powerful oil and auto industries [and] environmental groups,” as some lawmakers seek to enact a law “mak[ing] California the first state to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars.” The measure, Assembly Bill 1058, would order California's Air Resources Board to adopt regulations yielding the “maximum feasible” reduction in CO2 emissions from passenger cars and trucks. This is a call to eliminate gasoline engines by regulatory fiat, instead of through technological and economic advances. Sacramento politicians are ready to move ahead, despite the fact that the U.S. Senate has yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and the federal Clean Air Act preempts such adventurous state regulation. Naturally, this push comes in the closing hours of the state legislative session. The Chronicle quotes former state lawmaker and now auto industry lobbyist Phil Isenberg saying “They're trying to solve a worldwide problem with California-specific actions.” Indeed, a major reason Kyoto was a non-starter for the Bush administration is it excludes the bulk of the world's population. Critics bemoan that the Assembly will likely pass some form of this bill, which will likely fly through the Senate. Facing this reality, targeted manufacturers and legislators are considering a potential deal. Instead of mandating CO2 reductions, one rumored compromise would create a registry of voluntary mobile source CO2 emission reduction efforts by various entities. Serving as a central repository for mobile source CO2 information, such a registry merely would facilitate a continued campaign to force the desired mandatory emission — therefore energy use — reductions. Still, this would allow legislators to “vote for something,” consistent with the traditional lawmaker pursuit of symbolism over substance. This may be the best California can hope for right now. And that is a sorry state.