California Tailpipe Rules Could Cruise Into Texas

New "Clean Cars" bill would require new rides in Texas sold after 2008 to adhere to California's Zero Emission Vehicle program

State Sen. Rodney Ellis filed legislation last Thursday that would bring Texas' vehicle emissions standards up to par with 11 other states, led by California, which has passed tailpipe measures stronger than those prescribed by the federal government. Senate Bill 124 (aka the Clean Cars Program) would require new rides sold after 2008 to adhere to California's Zero Emission Vehicle program, which targets emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds – both ingredients in smog and ozone pollution – in addition to requiring 30% reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2016.

State Rep. Mark Strama – who served on Ellis' staff when he filed a similar bill in 1991 that failed due to lack of support – simultaneously filed a companion bill in the House, House Bill 344. With 82% of Austin's smog pollution coming from cars, Strama said, "We've got to invest in reductions." Ellis anticipates "tremendous" opposition to the bill at the Lege, but given that smoggy big cities such as Houston are now expected to blow 2010 federal Clean Air Act compliance deadlines by up to eight years, requiring state legislators to ask the EPA for an extension to avoid losing federal highway funding, Ellis says it'll be interesting to see leaders try and oppose his bill with one hand and beg feds for an air cleanup extension with the other. "The stakes are different in Washington," he said.

Austin Mayor Will Wynn was on hand Thursday to back the bill – joining the mayors of Houston, Dallas, and Fort Worth, as well as a slew of statewide environmental, community, and health groups. He explained how A-town continues to flirt with air-quality violations, even with our high-dollar Early Action Compact (think: vehicle emissions testing). As for public support, Ellis said, "The voters are ahead of us [legislators]. The polling is just off the charts. They get it." Environment Texas advocate Luke Metzger pointed to a 2002 poll showing 79% statewide support for such legislation – with 54% strongly supporting.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (the auto industry's lobbying arm) does not strongly support the Clean Cars Program. "Texas adopting California's emissions program is unnecessary. Automakers already make vehicles 99 percent cleaner than 30 years ago," said spokesman Charles Territo. "There are no benefits above and beyond the federal program, and [Clean Cars] would impose a huge bureaucracy on taxpayers."

Environmental Defense regional director Jim Marston said the cost of the program to consumers ($300-1,000 by ED's calculations) would pay itself off in two years at current gas prices. ED regional communications director Colin Rowan added that California's program improves upon the federal emissions program with more ambitious mandates for fuel economy increases, something the Auto Alliance consistently fights, Rowan said, even though "other countries are doing it."

"This bill marks Texas' first step toward taking responsibility for our role in global warming," Marston said, something federal rules also don't do.

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