Emissions: State Urged To Tighten Tailpipe Rules

(May 11, 2011)

san-francisco-chronicle

May 11, 2011

California must tighten tailpipe emissions controls not just to clean up some of the dirtiest air in the nation, but to save hundreds of lives each year and billions of dollars devoted to asthma and other disorders stemming from smog and diesel fumes, a public health group will argue in a report to be released today.

In its study of vehicle exhaust and its impacts in California, the American Lung Association found that increasing average statewide fuel economy from 28 miles per gallon today to about 64 miles per gallon by 2025 would prevent more than 400 premature deaths each year and eliminate about $7 billion in emergency room visits, lost work time and environmental damage.

The association's 31-page report, "The Road to Clean Air," coincides with California's efforts to update and roll together by the end of 2011 three different sets of statutes governing vehicle emissions, which account for about 30 percent of the greenhouse gases discharged in the state each year.

Far-reaching impact

But the final orders could reverberate far beyond the Golden State. The California Air Resources Board, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the world's automakers are working on a single fuel efficiency standard for the country beginning with model year 2017 and running through 2025. In 2009, after several years of nasty battles between the car industry and California, the four groups agreed to a nationwide fuel efficiency target for the 2012-16 period, reaching 35.5 miles per gallon in the final year.

"This is a key time when all of the interested parties are coming together to create a nationwide standard," said Jane Warner, president of the American Lung Association in California. "California officials have the opportunity to save lives and improve air quality for years to come."

As with California's earlier attempt to lead the fuel efficiency charge, however, this initiative is expected to meet with resistance from vehicle makers. Many contend that achieving significant additional jumps in gas economy will be too costly - adding as much as $10,000 to a new car - and could squash a nascent rebound in the beleaguered auto industry.

Signs of discord emerged early this year when California Air Resources Board Mary Nichols accused the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a powerful trade group based in Washington, D.C., of trying to undermine the collaborative approach.

Payback at the pump

Researchers with the lung association acknowledge that cleaner-burning cars will cost a thousand dollars more than traditional gas-guzzlers, but they insist consumers will see almost immediate payback in less expensive trips to the pump.

They also compare the industry's reluctance to previous fights over seat belts, air bags and catalytic converters.

Today, with gas prices mounting and the toll on public health growing more visible, the group insists there is no more time for bickering.

California is home to 11 of the 15 cities nationwide with the smoggiest air.

Each year in those cities, ozone and diesel exhaust particulates result in thousands of asthma attacks and more serious cardiovascular hospitalizations. Switching to cleaner-burning hybrids, plug-ins and fuel-cell cars and trucks, the public health group argues, will cut out more than 120,000 tons of greenhouse gases each day, along with almost 200 tons of smog-forming compounds and 14 tons of diesel particulates - increasingly associated with serious respiratory problems, including lung cancer.

State officials say there is yet another long-term benefit to stricter vehicle pollution controls: new technology investment.

"Globally, the big push is on for cleaner cars," said air resources board spokesman Stanley Young. "We can't cede the field to competitors outside the nation."