Climate Change

Canada Might Copy California Greenhouse Gas Law

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 19, 2005

A recent L.A. Times article reports that Canadian officials are touring California to review its greenhouse gas laws so it can decide whether to copy them.

Canada could do much worse than following California's lead on air quality. According to Clean Air Hamilton, a community initiative that reports to City Council: "No progress has been made for air pollutants most closely related to the transportation sector (Clean Air Hamilton Progress Report 2004). Overall, transportation accounts for a little over half the nitrogen oxide emissions and significant shares of other pollutants in Hamilton.

California's 2004 law "requires automakers to reduce tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases nearly 30% by 2016. It is strongly opposed by automakers, who have filed state and federal lawsuits to block it."

Now, there's no question that vehicle regulations work as long as they're applied fairly and consistently.

A Brief History of Vehicle Regulation

In 1970, the US government passed a major amendment to the Clean Air Act that included provisions to reduce auto emissions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides by 90 percent. Despite numerous delays and extensions, the Act achieved tremendous emission reductions over the next twenty years.

After the 1973 OPEC crisis, the US government established Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. In 1975, average fuel economy was 17.4 L/100 km (13.5 mpg) for cars and 20.3 L/100 km (11.6 mpg) for light trucks.

CAFE established a staged increase to 8.5 L/100 km (27.5 mpg) for cars, but left truck regulation up to the Department of Transportation on the theory that trucks were used mainly for business rather than personal use.

As oil prices fell through the 1980s, automakers exploited this loophole by shifting production and marketing over to SUVs and light trucks. Regulated as commercial vehicles but targeted to consumers, SUVs have proven more profitable than cars and have steadily increased in market share. They now account for about half of all personal vehicle sales.

Efforts in Congress and the Senate to regulate SUVs more stringently have generally failed. A recent law increasing mileage from 11.4 L/100 km (20.7 mpg) to 10.6 L/100 km (22.2 mpg) by model year 2007 is more cosmetic than substantive. As a result of the ongoing SUV loophole, average fuel consumption reversed its decline in the late 1990s and actually continues to worsen.

Climate Change

These days, climate change has trumped fuel economy and air quality as the main incentive to regulate vehicles. The good new is that efforts to reduce these emissions also tend to reduce air pollution and improve fuel economy.

In North America, California leads the way with stringent standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which brings us back to the L.A. Times article.

Canada and California have similar populations (30 million and 37 million, respectively), suggesting roughly equivalent market clout. If Canada adopts an aggressive greenhouse gas law, it will increase the pressure on automakers to develop cleaner and more efficient vehicles across all markets.

According to Roland Hwang of the Natural Resources Defense Council, "The prospect of Canada adopting the California approach scares the automakers to death. With the Canadians on board, we'd reach the tipping point."

The article notes that "If Canada and New York and other Northeastern states all pass California-style greenhouse gas regulations, 'we would be at least a third of the market,' Environment Minister Stephane Dion said. 'It is always difficult for Canada to go alone.'" Several Northeastern states are also considering California-style laws.

Read the L.A. Times article here:

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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