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California emission law
sets stage
for other states

by Dava Della, associate Science & Environment editor


California Governor Gary Davis signed into law, in July, a bill that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks. As the first state to regulate fuel emissions, California must develop a plan by 2005 to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

The move was prompted by critics of the Clean Skies Initiative Act who complained that the Bush Administration proposed pollution cuts from power plants, eliminated clean air programs, and failed to control global warming (

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Under the new law, California must force manufacturers to build cars that meet higher fuel-efficiency standards and to install emission caps in a cost-effective manner. Manufacturers are prohibited from banning certain types of vehicles and restricting vehicle size. They have until model year 2009 to comply with these rules.

The auto industry is outraged, claiming that the new law would lead to higher gas taxes and a decline in auto sales. Tom Graff, senior attorney of the Environmental Defense Fund in California, responded: “For years automakers have resisted sensible changes on everything from the introduction of unleaded gas to claims that this law would destroy the economy and limit consumer choice.”


The United States is the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluter, contributing a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by burning fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—is the dominant greenhouse gas that causes global warming. The CO2 emitted by a motor vehicle is the product of the amount of driving and how much fuel the vehicle burns. Every million barrels of oil per day that cars consume translates into 36.8 million metric tons of annual carbon emissions.

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In a report entitled “Automakers’ Corporate Carbon Burdens: Reframing Public Policy on Automobiles, Oil and Climate,” co-author John DeCicco lists the carbon burden—the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere each year after a company sells a new group of cars—of six leading automakers in the U.S. market from 1990 to 2000. The six automakers include General Motors, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, Honda, and Nissan. The report shows that these companies increased their carbon burden by some degree or another.

General Motors rounded out the decade with a 13 percent increase in carbon burden, but Toyota experienced the most dramatic change, with a 72 percent increase. Toyota’s large increase in carbon burden is attributed to the company’s heavy move into sports utility vehicles such as the Toyota 4Runner and Toyota RAV4. (SUVs are not regulated in the United States; these vehicles use more fuel than smaller cars, consuming 8.2 million barrels of oil per day, or 302 MMTc of annual carbon emissions).

DeCicco said the right strategy for a company is “to produce competitive products that help them gain or maintain their market share while cutting their carbon burden.

“Automakers need to take responsibility in designing vehicles with lower CO2 emissions and higher fuel economy instead of profiting at the expense of the environment by a growing market share,” he said.





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