California air-quality regulators on Friday adopted the nation's first-ever rules to reduce car emissions linked to global warming, an action likely to prompt tough pollution standards in other states and a legal challenge by the auto industry.
The new rules will require automakers to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases in cars and trucks by as much as 25 percent beginning with the 2009 model year, with cuts accelerating as high as 34 percent in 2016.
The auto industry said the standards will lead to a sharp increase in car prices but proponents of the regulations said the claim was exaggerated.
New York, New Jersey and New England states are likely to follow the California rules when making their own plans to reduce vehicle pollution, analysts said.
New York Gov. George Pataki said last year that his state will cut greenhouse gases by adopting California's standards.
The California Air Resources Board approved the regulations unanimously after two days of hearings in Los Angeles, implementing a state law adopted two years ago. The California Legislature will review the rules, which could go into effect in 2006.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's environmental protection secretary, Terry Tamminen, endorsed the standards, and environmental groups were jubilant.
"Today's action by the Air Board will be heard by the country and even around the world," said Bill Magavern, senior legislative representative in California for the Sierra Club, an environmental group.
"What's happening here is that the Bush administration's refusal to act on global warming has created a vacuum and California is stepping into that void. Other states and countries realize the importance of taking action," Magavern said.
The auto industry is expected to challenge the standards in the courts.
Alan Lloyd, chairman of the Resources Board, said adoption of the rules "was an important day for California" and rebuked the auto industry for not joining the effort to cut emissions.
"Their response was silence. It was deafening," Lloyd said.
Testimony from the health care industry was compelling, Lloyd said.
Smog levels expected from global warming "may cause or exacerbate serious health problems, including damage to lung tissue, reduced lung function, asthma, emphysema, bronchitis and increased hospitalizations for people with cardiac and respiratory illnesses," said Dr. John Balmes of the American Lung Association.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington, D.C.-based group that represents Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., DaimlerChrysler and six other automakers, is examining its legal options. California accounts for nearly 13 percent of the U.S. auto market, and other states are likely to adopt similar rules.
The auto industry has warned that the emissions standards will cost California drivers more than $3,000 per vehicle to introduce more efficient engines, transmissions and air conditioning systems. But Air Board staff said costs will rise slightly more than $1,000 for cars, trucks and SUVs by 2016.
The industry has challenged California's authority to set its own pollution standards, saying the rules are really about vehicle fuel efficiency, a federal issue. But environmental activists said federal law allows the state to set such rules.
"Under the Clean Air Act, California has the right to set vehicle emissions standards even if those standards affect fuel consumption," said David Doniger, a lawyer for the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council.
"That authority extends to the heat-trappoing emissions that cause global warming." he said.
(Additional reporting by Duncan Martell in San Francisco)
Written by: Leonard Anderson. Provided by: Planet Ark
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