The industry argues that California’s greenhouse-gas emissions standards—which we’ve argued the Northwest should adopt as well—are actually just fuel-economy standards in disguise. And, the industry argues, the US federal government’s CAFE standards trump state authority over fuel economy, under the principle of preemption. Preemption basically says that if the feds regulate a specific activity, states shouldn’t do so in addition.
I’m no expert in the law, but I think the industry’s case is ludicrous. Rachel Chanin of New York University writes the legal brief on the myriad reasons why that’s true.
The simplest counterargument to the carmakers is this: Car manufacturers could meet the greenhouse-gas standard lots of ways besides improving fuel economy. For example, they could manufacture vehicles powered by electricity to meet the standard. They could manufacture vehicles fueled with ethanol. They could use biodiesel. They could use compressed natural gas. They could make hydrogen vehicles. Or they could reengineer vehicle air conditioners to prevent them from ever leaking climate-changing coolants.
Automakers could also improve the fuel-economy to meet the standard. But they don’t have to. So California’s greenhouse-gas standards are not fuel-economy standards in disguise.
Update, December 9: Automakers’ opposition hasn’t deterred Northwest leaders from supporting them. Yesterday, Washington’s Governor Gary Locke and legislative Democrats proposed that the state adopt California’s vehicle-emission standards.