Thursday, December 20, 2007

Where's Hawai'i in fuel economy battle?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, insisting that it has auto fuel economy well under control, has refused to allow 17 states to demand more.

California, at least, says it will appeal. Other states can be expected to join in.

Hawai'i, arguably a state with the most to gain, is ironically not participating in this little example of “think globally, act locally.” That's despite having some of the highest fuel prices in the nation, having an economy critically dependent on fossil fuel imports, a coastline now eroding due in part to climate change, immense traffic problems, parking space issues statewide and so on.

The New York Times listed three arguments used by EPA administrator Stephen L. Johnson to support the agency's decision to ban state action.

  1. The state rules are pre-empted by federal authority.

  2. The new federal energy bill, which President Bush signed, makes the issue moot.

  3. And furthermore, “The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, and not a confusing patchwork of state rules. I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone,” he said

Never mind that the EPA has approved virtually all previous California waivers of the Clean Air Bill, that no “clear national solution” has been described, and that the new rules, watered down to gain passage in the Senate, don't go nearly as far as some of the states wanted to go.

The Congress brought the U.S. to automotive fuel economy of 35 miles a gallon by 2020.

Auto makers say they're working hard on improvement fuel economy, but it's not as if this is going to take a monumental technological leap. In Europe, average fuel economy is 20 percent higher than that right now.

The states demanding more fuel economy in cars are Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Utah and Washington. They represent something like half the cars in the nation.

Several of those states have some of the highest fuel costs in the nation (see below for a link to state-by-state fuel costs), although emissions rather than fuel cost is the primary target of mileage standards. Hawai'i, which currently the highest-priced gasoline in the country, is notably missing in the group insisting on tough fuel economy standards.

California says it will appeal the EPA decision: "California sued to compel the agency to act on our waiver, and now we will sue to overturn today's decision and allow Californians to protect our environment," said a statement from the office of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The California fuel economy plan would have taken that state's fleet to close to the European level of fuel economy by 2016. Twelve states have already adopted the California standard.

“Let's be clear; the California standard is stronger and more effective than the 35 mpg floor established in the new energy bill," said David Doniger, climate center policy director for the National Resources Defense Council.

In a statement on the NRDC website, Doniger added: “California is suffering severe impacts from global warming. Mr. Johnson's 'policy preference' for a different approach is exactly the kind of illegal free-lancing the Supreme Court rejected in its landmark April decision on global warming.”

The auto industry earlier tried to block state-by-state fuel standards, but a federal judge in September 2007 threw out their suit, saying he wasn't convinced that they couldn't meet the California requirements.

President Bush, in a press conference, seemed committed to a national energy strategy: "The question is how to have an effective strategy. Is it more effective to let each state make a decision as to how to proceed in curbing greenhouse gases, or is it more effective to have a national strategy?”

The Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, which represents the major car makers, insists its members consider fuel economy a priority, but that the states have no right to establish fuel economy standards independent of the federal government. In a statement issued today (Dec. 20, 2007), AIAM president Michael Stanton said:

“AIAM supports efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improve fuel economy but believes strongly that it is the federal government’s responsibility to establish one uniform national fuel economy standard rather than permit a patchwork of state laws. We look forward to working with EPA and other federal agencies to develop nationwide GHG emissions regulations for motor vehicles that will more effectively address global warming and climate change concerns related to CO2 emissions from automobiles.”
© 2007 Jan W. TenBruggencate
Some numbers: According to the AAA's fuel cost report updated to Dec. 20, 2007, (, Hawai'i's price for regular gasoline was the highest in the nation, leading California by nearly 20 cents and Connecticut by a quarter.

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