Wednesday, April 23, 2008

All Emissions Ain't Made Equal

If you don't give a damn about greenhouse gases in the nation and specifically California, this little tidbit won't do much for you. For the rest of us, The Los Angeles Times is reporting a conflict of interest that should raise some eyebrows for those in the Golden State who remember rolling blackouts under ousted Governor Gray Davis. Here's the quick-n-dirty version: During Earth Day, a proposal was delivered by the Transportation Secretary Mary Peters that specified how the federal government would reach fuel-economy standards passed by Congressional legislation last year. The proposal seeks an average of around 36 mpg for cars in 2015, with light trucks (read: SUVs) reaching nearly 29 mpg. No problem, right?

Wrong. Buried within the hundreds of pages that comprise this proposal is clear language declaring that states CAN NOT set their own emissions standards. What does this mean? For around 60% of the country, it means very little -if anything. For the "shining" state of California, it means that the higher fuel efficiency standards many want to mandate at around 42 mpg is considered unenforceable. California is indeed a special case due to its sheer size and its car-dependent (read: public transportation deficient) landscape and economy.

Here's the "official" logic: No state can set emissions standards, as that is the domain of the federal government. This would seem logical were CA opting to set lower standards, but the federal proposal bars setting higher standards as well. This would create havoc (meaning less profit) for auto makers who would need to reach the higher standards in order to be on the good side of the law (and thus penalty free) in all states.

Here's Onyx Cranium's logic: What exactly is going on here? Clearly California needs higher standards to lessen green house gases, but we agree that isn't the nation's fault. Or is it? We're feelin' the first effects of global warming and pollution due to our worship of the car and the SUV. Still, Cali's higher standards wouldn't presumptively hurt anyone, but states comprising 40% of the rest of the country have attempted to follow the Golden State's example - and that's where it gets costly for car manufacturers and the government officials that they buy (oops - we mean "lobby").

But something just isn't right about any of this. We bring up rolling blackouts because that's what happened the last time the federal government insisted that California shouldn't get any help or special consideration due to its energy needs and subsequent crisis. The situation was markedly different in several ways, but it all boiled down to whether or not the federal government was going to err on the side of business or the state's long-term best interest. While claiming to be "neutral" and "fair for all states" through not enforcing regulations, the Bush administration erred on the side of business. How so? Well, the energy crisis was caused by a little company in Texas that was profiting from California's unenforced legislation and resultant scramble to deal with a man-made energy crisis. The company's not around anymore, but you may have heard of them. They traded on the New York Stock Exchange under ENE, but employees, President Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger (who met with top level company management before officially running against Gray Davis) just called it Enron.

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