Attacks on Clean Air Act Threaten Healthy Air for America and California’s Environmental Leadership

Would Stop Clean Cars Program, Put Pollution Reduction Goals at Risk and Threaten State’s Communities

Attacks on America’s landmark clean air law intensified on Wednesday in Washington D.C. The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Power Subcommittee held its first hearing on a draft bill to undermine the country’s Clean Air Act.

The attacks take direct aim at California’s long-standing clean cars program – vital clean air measures that have protected California’s health and environment for more than 40 years.  

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) — and a companion version of the bill in the Senate sponsored by Jim Inhofe (R-OK) — would strip the Environmental Protection Agency’s planned update to improve the act’s pollution limits by addressing greenhouse gases (GHG).  

Among other things, the bill would:

  • Overturn the EPA’s independent scientific determination that greenhouse gas pollution endangers human health;
  • Overturn the Supreme Court’s finding affirming that the EPA has the authority and responsibility to regulate those emissions,
  • Block EPA’s measures to require the nation’s largest industrial emitters to deploy cost-effective pollution mitigation at the time of construction or modernization; and
  • Prohibit the EPA from requiring additional GHG reductions from motor vehicles and repeal California’s long-standing authority to regulate these harmful emissions.

What hasn’t been reported so far is the blow this legislative attack would have on California’s successful environmental leadership, a record that has delivered tremendous health and economic benefits to Californians and to all Americans.   

Many of the folks I’ve spoken with believe that environmental attacks in D.C. won’t really impact California since we have our own air pollution limits and groundbreaking environmental standards. In this particular case, unfortunately, they’re wrong. 

If this bill becomes law, California will be prohibited from limiting global warming pollution from vehicles, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of the state’s emissions. Blocking California’s ability to reduce pollution within its borders would mean:

  • more pollution;
  • less fuel efficiency in cars and trucks; and
  • sagging demand for innovative hybrids and electric vehicles.

This would cripple California’s ability to cut pollution to 1990 levels by 2020 as required by the state’s landmark clean energy and climate change law, AB 32.  It would also mean importing more oil from unstable and unfriendly governments, and forcing California drivers to pay more at the pump.

James Goldstene, executive officer of California’s Air Resources Board (CARB), the primary agency charged with protecting the state’s air quality and overseeing implementation of AB 32 testified at yesterday’s congressional hearing. He said that California has established pollution standards for new vehicles sold in the state since the 1960s. Since the 1980s, each successive California standard has gone on to become the national standard.

“Preempting the authority for EPA to regulate the emissions of vehicles would rob this country of one of its most powerful tools not just to reduce carbon pollution, but also to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and to save consumers money. And every dollar not spent on foreign oil is a dollar spent here.”

Last year, the EPA adopted the first national greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks for model year 2012-2016 vehicles. These were based on California’s standards, which 13 other states had adopted. They are expected to improve fuel efficiency by about five percent annually, reduce fleet-wide greenhouse gases 21 percent by 2030 and save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold under the program.

Upton’s bill “changes the manner in which motor vehicles have been regulated in the United States for 40 years” and would prohibit the EPA and California from establishing new tailpipe emissions standards and from making further revisions to the standards announced last year.

As EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson noted in her testimony at the hearing, Chairman Upton’s draft bill would eliminate portions of the Clean Air Act that “saves millions of American children and adults from the debilitating and expensive illnesses that occur when smokestacks and tailpipes release unrestricted amounts of harmful pollution into the air we breathe.”

Last year alone, EPA’s implementation of the act:

  • saved more than 160,000 American lives;
  • avoided more than 100,000 hospital visits;
  • prevented millions of cases of respiratory illness, including bronchitis and asthma;
  • enhanced American productivity by preventing millions of lost workdays; and
  • kept American kids healthy and in school.

According to Jackson, it also contributed to dynamic growth in our domestic clean tech industry, which in 2008, generated nearly $300 billion in revenues and $44 billion in exports.

Californians pride themselves on their state’s innovation. If we want to continue this leadership role, Upton’s bill, and other like-minded attacks, must be defeated.

EDF will continue working with our allies to protect the Clean Air Act, which an overwhelming majority of Americans and tens of thousands of businesses support–for good reason.

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