Climate Change

Canada Might Copy California Greenhouse Gas Law

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 19, 2005

A recent L.A. Times article reports that Canadian officials are touring California to review its greenhouse gas laws so it can decide whether to copy them.

Canada could do much worse than following California's lead on air quality. According to Clean Air Hamilton, a community initiative that reports to City Council: "No progress has been made for air pollutants most closely related to the transportation sector (Clean Air Hamilton Progress Report 2004). Overall, transportation accounts for a little over half the nitrogen oxide emissions and significant shares of other pollutants in Hamilton.

California's 2004 law "requires automakers to reduce tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases nearly 30% by 2016. It is strongly opposed by automakers, who have filed state and federal lawsuits to block it."

Now, there's no question that vehicle regulations work as long as they're applied fairly and consistently.

A Brief History of Vehicle Regulation

In 1970, the US government passed a major amendment to the Clean Air Act that included provisions to reduce auto emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides by 90 percent. Despite numerous delays and extensions, the Act achieved tremendous emission reductions over the next twenty years.

After the 1973 OPEC crisis, the US government established Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. In 1975, average fuel economy was 17.4 L/100 km (13.5 mpg) for cars and 20.3 L/100 km (11.6 mpg) for light trucks.

CAFE established a staged increase to 8.5 L/100 km (27.5 mpg) for cars, but left truck regulation up to the Department of Transportation on the theory that trucks were used mainly for business rather than personal use.

As oil prices fell through the 1980s, automakers exploited this loophole by shifting production and marketing over to SUVs and light trucks. Regulated as commercial vehicles but targeted to consumers, SUVs have proven more profitable than cars and have steadily increased in market share. They now account for about half of all personal vehicle sales.

Efforts in Congress and the Senate to regulate SUVs more stringently have generally failed. A recent law increasing mileage from 11.4 L/100 km (20.7 mpg) to 10.6 L/100 km (22.2 mpg) by model year 2007 is more cosmetic than substantive. As a result of the ongoing SUV loophole, average fuel consumption reversed its decline in the late 1990s and actually continues to worsen.

Climate Change

These days, climate change has trumped fuel economy and air quality as the main incentive to regulate vehicles. The good new is that efforts to reduce these emissions also tend to reduce air pollution and improve fuel economy.

In North America, California leads the way with stringent standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which brings us back to the L.A. Times article.

Canada and California have similar populations (30 million and 37 million, respectively), suggesting roughly equivalent market clout. If Canada adopts an aggressive greenhouse gas law, it will increase the pressure on automakers to develop cleaner and more efficient vehicles across all markets.

According to Roland Hwang of the Natural Resources Defense Council, "The prospect of Canada adopting the California approach scares the automakers to death. With the Canadians on board, we'd reach the tipping point."

The article notes that "If Canada and New York and other Northeastern states all pass California-style greenhouse gas regulations, 'we would be at least a third of the market,' Environment Minister Stephane Dion said. 'It is always difficult for Canada to go alone.'" Several Northeastern states are also considering California-style laws.

Read the L.A. Times article here:

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 20, 2005 at 07:05:11

Not to beat a dead horse, but...

This just in from the Hamilton Spectator (Eric McGuinness, "Cleaner air is up to us, says watchdog", January 19, 2005) -

"Transportation is the leading source in Hamilton of nitrogen oxide, which is blamed for a significant share of health effects of air pollution.

"Cleaning up Hamilton's air is no longer a job for heavy industry. Clean Air Hamilton says it's you and me with our SUVs, suburban homes and under-used public transit that is now causing the problem.

"Brian McCarry, chair of the city-sponsored, non-profit, volunteer group, says local industry has made big gains and can still do more. But future improvements in air quality will depend largely on decisions we make about how we live.

"'The choices you make net a real impact,' he told councillors yesterday, suggesting the city do its part by buying more gas-electric hybrid vehicles, 'greening' its fleet and insisting on more compact urban development.

"McCarry, a chemistry professor who holds the Stephen A. Jarislowsky chair in environment and health at McMaster University, says industry has to do better, but cleaner air is becoming more a lifestyle issue, a societal issue, in which sales of big sport-utility vehicles offset other accomplishments."

(Sorry, no link available. The Spec website is subscriber-only.)

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