If the Feds Won’t Do It, California Will: New Rules Tighten Automobile Efficiency

Date: 3 Sep 2004 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Note: Article originally published October 2002.

Existing California law requires the California Climate Action Registry to perform various functions relating to emissions reductions, including maintaining a record of certified greenhouse gas emission baselines and emission reduction results. Building on these existing requirements, the new law (AB1493) requires the registry, in consultation with the State Air Resources Board, to adopt procedures and protocols for the reporting and certification of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources – automobiles and trucks.

Although AB1493 does not directly say how emissions should be reduced in automobiles and trucks, it directs the California Air Resources Board to come up with regulations by 2005 that "achieve the maximum feasible reduction of greenhouse gases". While the language in the legislation is focused on reducing emissions, the end result if enacted into law is an increase in fuel efficiency of automobiles sold into the California market. Efforts to increase fuel economy standards at the Federal level were blocked by the Bush Administration. The California legislation regulating tail-pipe emissions was an innovative way to enact fuel economy standards at the State level.

The Governor signed the bill on July 22, 2002, putting California at the forefront of a worldwide effort to reduce greenhouse gases. "This is the first law in America to substantively address the greatest environmental challenge of the 21st century," Gov. Davis said. "In time, every state – and hopefully every country – will act to protect future generations from the threat of global warming. For California, that time is now."

California is the only state empowered under federal law to pass stronger air pollution standards than those set by the federal government. Other states can then choose California’s standards, but cannot be the first to surpass those set by the federal government. Thus, passage of a California law leading to regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from cars eventually could spark changes in the design of automobiles sold across the country.

The new standards would apply to vehicles from model year 2009 onward. The bill prohibits any regulations from taking effect prior to January 1, 2006, in order to give the Legislature time for review.


  • New Rules Project section on the California Automobile CO2Emissions
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John Farrell directs the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he develops tools that allow communities to take charge of their energy future, and pursue the maximum economic benefits of the transition to 100% renewable power.