Read Eric's bio and previous columns
January 26, 2009
Will Big Three
Continue to Resist Climate Change Action?
Last year, Detroit’s Big Three automakers were accused of
a lot of things when their chief officers went to Washington, seeking
assistance to bridge the worst of the credit crisis. In response, when
they finally got help, much of it was hung on strings meant to hurt
Detroit’s unionized factory workers. What was taken at face value was
Detroit’s commitment to change its long-known resistance to change.
Over the next couple of
weeks, we will see whether that pledge holds any water. President Obama
has, in his first days in office, made good on a number of campaign
pledges. Eventually, his attention will turn to promises for action on
climate change. One of the biggest of those is California’s application
for a waiver to the Clean Air Act to cut carbon emissions from cars.
culminates from a process started by a law passed by California in 2002,
the nation’s first law to cut emissions related to global warming.
Detroit opposed the law just as ferociously and they have fought
attempts to raise fuel economy standards.
Eventually the case
landed before the U.S. Supreme Court, which sided with California and
gave the Environmental Protection Agency the power to grant waivers to
states that asked for them. In the past, such waivers were given freely.
California, in fact, has received more than 50 of them over the years.
But California was requesting a waiver from a Bush Administration that
came to town promising action on carbon emissions, but which left eight
years later without taking any action. The EPA’s administrator turned
the state down. Not long after, Bush himself said that he would ride out
the rest of his term without taking any action on climate change.
Detroit warned that
granting California’s waiver would lead to a patchwork of 50 different
standards for 50 different states and industrial chaos. They’ve taken
their fight into the Obama Administration, arguing that rather than
granting California’s request for a waiver that the EPA itself establish
a nationwide standard.
They face daunting
prospects. The Obama Administration appears inclined to take strong
action on climate change. Obama mentioned it prominently in his
inaugural address and his appointments to key positions point to an
administration serious about the issue. Specifically, the woman he chose
to lead the EPA, Lisa Jackson, as soon as she is confirmed said she
would revisit California’s request, and both she and her boss have in
the past said that they support California’s bid.
On top of that,
California is not alone. Seventeen states have said that they will
follow California’s lead in cutting carbon emissions from automobiles.
All told, those states represent about 40 percent of the American
public, and a portion that was critical in winning the White House for
With 40 percent of the
American people covered by what would be the California standard, fears
of a 50-patchwork appear to be based more on myth than reality. In
reality, you’re likely to see two sets of standards – one for states
that adopt California’s standards, and one set of standards for states
that don’t adopt any. That is, until the Obama Administration itself
crafts its own standards based on the Supreme Court ruling authorizing
it to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
The question is whether Detroit was being genuine in
pledging that it would no longer resist change. Some of Detroit’s
competitors have already answered that. In a Sunday article in the
Los Angeles Times, an official for Honda said that the company
believes that carbon standards are inevitable, assumes the Obama
Administration will grant the waiver and has made plans to build a fleet
of cars that meets California’s standards. If those standards turn out
to be as inevitable as Honda thinks, you’ve got to wonder where will
rest the competitive edge.
North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback
about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
This is Column #
Request permission to publish here.