Emissions Standards not a "Patchwork"

Sheryl CanterThis post is by Sheryl Canter, an Online Writer and Editorial Manager at Environmental Defense.

Just before Christmas – after two years of stalling – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied California’s request to set its own, tougher vehicle-emissions standards. In denying the request, EPA Administrator Johnson said:

The Bush Administration is moving forward with a clear national solution – not a confusing patchwork of state rules – to reduce America’s climate footprint from vehicles."

What’s wrong with this statement? Well, among other things, the word "patchwork". Under the Clean Air Act, there are only two possible standards for motor vehicles:

  1. Federal standards
  2. California standards, which are tougher than federal standards and other states may adopt.

A choice between two options is hardly a "confusing patchwork". So where did this idea come from?

The "patchwork" argument originates with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM). (Thanks to cleanairwatch.org for the references.)

Fred Webber, AAM, before the California Air Resources Board (CARB), 9/23/04:

The U.S. Congress reserved the issue of regulating vehicle fuel economy to the federal government to balance all sectors of the economy and to avoid a patchwork quilt of state regulations which hurt businesses and, perhaps more importantly, consumers. It is a simple fact. This regulation is federally preempted.

Steven Douglas, AAM, before EPA, 5/22/07:

In this light, a patchwork of state-level fuel economy regulations, as is now proposed by California, is not simply unnecessary, it’s patently counterproductive.

Ellen Gleberman, AAM, Submitted to EPA Docket, 6/15/07:

The regulation of greenhouse gas emissions therefore requires a coordinated national approach rather than a patchwork of state approaches. This is especially true for the automobile industry where Congress – through the preemption provisions of EPCA and the Clean Air Act – has recognized the need for a uniform, nationwide approach for standards that impact the design and manufacture of automobiles.

A mischaracterizing word can have a lot of power, and unfortunately this one has been repeated by major news organizations. But California Air Resources Board Chair got it right in her explanation, as reported by the New York Times:

[CARB chair] Ms. Nichols pointed out, in a telephone news conference, that the Clean Air Act did not permit a patchwork of individual state regulations; it permits California to have independent rules on air pollutants, and permits other states to choose between the federal standards or more stringent standards set by California.

So don’t be fooled by the "patchwork" argument, and tell your friends – California’s waiver request is about two choices, not 50.

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