SACRAMENTO — Californians aren’t shy about taking to the open road, and the balance between automotive freedom and environmental stewardship is strong in the nation’s largest car market.
In a place where the car culture is as embedded as surfing, automakers are watching warily to see if other states will follow California’s lead in a mandate to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in cars and light trucks by 2009.
The bill, already approved by the state Legislature, is sitting on the desk of Gov. Gray Davis, who said it’s likely he’ll sign it.
“Most Americans believe that we can have the choice of the auto or truck we want and still do a better job with the cleaning up the environment around us,” Davis said during an interview with San Francisco’s KGO radio. “I believe this bill strikes the appropriate balance, and that’s why I’m strongly inclined to sign it.”
The bill, if signed, would be the nation’s first to target carbon dioxide emissions and the state’s strongest push in years to make cars run cleaner.
But there is sizable opposition from the automotive industry, which has threatened to go to court to fight it.
While the state has set trends embraced by the industry, they’ve also bedeviled it by pushing for tougher consumer regulations, primarily the nation’s first “lemon law,” and for legislation requiring carmakers to cut exhaust emissions and increase fuel efficiency.
Industry analysts say the California law will set a national trend.
Because more than 2 million cars were sold in California last year, whatever transpires there ripples through the entire industry, said Jim Motavalli, editor of the Norwalk, Conn.-based E: The Environmental Magazine.
“Manufacturers can’t not sell cars there, so they have to go by California’s standards,” he said. “Whatever California does, they (other states) do, too.”
That’s one reason the industry fights so hard in California, said Kris Kiser, vice president of state affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The industry employs 463,000 people in the state and sells $100 billion worth of cars a year, he said.
Unlike other automotive-centered states, California’s industry centers more on research and design, and lack manufacturing facilities that are dominated by strong labor unions. That, Kiser said, means California is an easier target for environmental and consumer legislation the automotive industry might be opposed to.
“If people want to buy SUVs, let them. People should decide what they drive, not bureaucrats,” he said.
Automakers claim the carbon dioxide emissions bill will dictate what Californians will be able to drive because there is no existing technology to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions blamed for global warming. That, industry proponents said, means building smaller cars that don’t use as much gasoline as SUVs or trucks.