Greenhouse gas bill too vague to hold value

Jan. 1, 2020
A proposed greenhouse gas emissions bill means well, but is made up of such vague language that its enaction may be of little impact.
Congress is racing toward assemblage of a greenhouse gas bill, which could have both good and bad implications for the aftermarket. The House Energy & Commerce Committee has taken the lead on getting the "American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009" passed by the committee before the Memorial Day recess. The Senate is moving more deliberatively; but President Obama is pushing both, hoping to get a bill in 2009.

The House bill being pushed by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) includes "transportation efficiency," requiring states to make greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions from transportation sources. Reduction depth is not outlined, but there is language offering some alternatives, including retrofit technologies and early vehicle replacement.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the man Waxman replaced as chairman of the committee, is pushing to include a "Cash for Clunkers" provision in the bill, which would add muscle — and aftermarket headaches — to the vague "early replacement" language.

Actually, vehicles are only a side issue for the Waxman bill, which focuses more on electric utility, fuel and manufacturing emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), however, is targeting vehicles with the proposed "endangerment" finding under the Clean Air Act it published in April. If the EPA issues a final rule asserting that tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride endanger public health, that would probably lead to the agency approving California's pending request to require automakers to reduce GHG emissions by 30 percent by 2016. Other states would immediately follow suit.

This could be good for the aftermarket, as suddenly there would be demand for such things as replacement refrigerants for R-134a, the standard, harmful GHG refrigerant now used in auto air conditioning systems.

However, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said she hopes Congress passes a broader attack on GHG emissions. That is what the Waxman bill is all about — it does not single out tailpipe emissions; in fact, it doesn't even address them specifically. Rather, the Waxman bill focuses on emissions of the six GHGs from manufacturing plants and electric utilities.

But the bill's language is vague. There is no endorsement of a national standard. All the bill says is that states must "establish goals for greenhouse gas reductions from the transportation sector" and that states who fail to do so will be sanctioned to some unspecified degree. The bill establishes no hard and fast goals but does give some examples of what strategies states can use, which are heavy on such things as telecommuting, parking policies, travel demand management and restrictions on the use of certain roads, which is to say "infrastructure" type limits on auto use, not reductions in auto emissions necessarily.

Stephen Barlas has been a full-time freelance Washington editor since 1981, reporting for trade, professional magazines and newspapers on regulatory agency, congressional and White House actions and issues. He also writes a column for Automotive Engineering, the monthly publication for the Society of Automotive Engineers.