On behalf of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a non-profit public policy organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., I am pleased to submit this comment on the Air Resource Board’s (ARB) proposals to implement AB 1493, a law requiring ARB to adopt regulations achieving “maximum feasible and cost-effective” reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
Backdoor Fuel Economy Regulation
The main greenhouse gas emitted by motor vehicles is carbon dioxide (CO2), an inescapable byproduct of the combustion of gasoline and other carbonaceous fuels. Because commercially proven technologies to filter out or capture CO2 emissions from gasoline-powered vehicles do not exist, the most feasible way to implement AB 1493 is via regulations increasing vehicle miles traveled per unit of fuel consumed—in other words, via fuel economy regulations.
However, as ARB is surely aware, the federal Energy Policy Conservation Act of 1975 preempts state action in the field of automobile fuel economy regulation. The relevant provision states:
When an average fuel economy standard prescribed under this chapter is in effect, a State or a political subdivision of a State may not adopt or enforce a law or regulation related to fuel economy standards or average fuel economy standards for automobiles covered by an average fuel economy standard under this chapter [emphasis added]. U.S.C. 49, Sec. 32919 (a)
Proponents of AB 1493 deny that California’s adoption of greenhouse gas emission standards for cars would establish de facto fuel economy standards. However, ARB’s proposals regarding “Engine, Drivetrain, and Other Vehicle Modification,” on pages 40-48 of its report, are identical in substance, and very nearly in detail, to a set of fuel economy proposals offered by the National Research Council (NRC) in its July 2001 report, Effectiveness and Impact of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards. Like the NRC, ARB touts camless valve actuation and other modifications in engine valve trains, variable compression ratios, gasoline direct injection, continuously variable transmission, 42-volt electrical systems, hybridization, aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance reduction, and vehicle weight reduction, among other design and engineering changes. A side-by-side comparison appears below.
An old joke has it that the Iliad was not written by Homer; rather, it was written by another Greek with the same name. A law that effectively and significantly requires automakers to increase fuel economy is a fuel economy mandate, however named. It seems likely that courts will find in favor of plaintiffs challenging AB 1493 as an illicit foray into the field of fuel economy regulation.