Tough Clean Car Standards Would Save California Billions, Study Says

(May 11, 2011)

sacramento-bee

May 11, 2011

California could save $7.2 billion or more in health and other societal costs by adopting tough clean car standards, a new report said.

The state and federal government are in the process of drafting new fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas-emission rules that could raise the average mileage rates for new cars to as much as 62 miles per gallon by the year 2025.

In a study released Tuesday, the American Lung Association in California said those tough standards could mean 400 fewer premature, respiratory related deaths each year, 8,075 fewer asthma attacks, and at least 28,100 fewer lost work days.

"We have the opportunity to save lives and improve air quality for years to come," said Jane Warner, CEO of the American Lung Association in California.

The California Air Resources Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plan to unveil new fuel-efficiency standards in September for new cars built between 2017 and 2025.

The agencies are considering rules that will cut greenhouse gas emissions between 3 percent and 6 percent a year, which will raise fuel efficiency standards from the current 27 mpg to 47 mpg on the low side and 62 mpg on the high side.

Under a 2010 agreement, the state and federal government are working with each other to develop the new fuel-efficiency rules by sharing scientific research and engineering studies.

The deal ended years of bickering with the Bush administration's EPA over California's right to regulate greenhouse gases from cars, and preserved the state's right to seek higher fuel-efficiency standards than those set by the EPA.

According to the lung association, cars and trucks account for more than half the greenhouse gas emitted each year, and their health impacts to state residents amount to about $14.5 billion a year, or roughly $1.19 for each gallon of gas sold here.

Enacting stringent fuel-efficiency standards will cut carbon emissions by 190 tons per day, eliminating over 70 percent of the smog-forming emissions, the study said.

Environmentalist and consumer groups argue that the higher sticker price for new-generation cars such as hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles are offset by savings consumers get at the gas pump. The health care savings are an additional benefit, the lung association said.

But local energy economist Tom Tanton believes that much of the projected health care and consumer savings disappear if gasoline drops below $4 a gallon.

When prices drop below today's level, there's less incentive to purchase the more expensive, cleaner cars, resulting in fewer greenhouse gas reductions, he said.

"The run-up to $4 a gallon was largely due to the unrest in the Middle East, and that has quieted down," he said. "There's less uncertainty in the world oil market."