President Obama has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to swiftly decide whether or not it will waive federal law and allow California to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles. EPA is very likely to grant the waiver enabling California to institute new and costly regulations. The regulations amount to a stealth carbon tax of at least $1,000 on average per car or truck.

While the costs for this action are substantial, the benefits will be miniscule. These regulations will only reduce carbon dioxide emissions by a tiny amount. In fact, if every car in the US met these standards, the amount of carbon dioxide reduced would be overcome by the increase in other parts of the world within 134 days.[1] American jobs, American workers and American family budgets will suffer. Meanwhile carbon dioxide emissions savings will essentially be “background noise.”

According to the rosy and dated estimates from California’s regulators, granting the waiver and allowing California to further regulate automobiles will increase the average price of a car by over $1,000. In addition to California, 16 other states have indicated that they plan to implement California’s costly regulations. If California and other states choose to deliberately increase the cost of automobiles for their citizens, their voters can express their discontent to their government. However, since California and the 13 other states’ citizens make up 50 percent of the nation’s population, in order to make car cost-effectively, automakers will likely be forced to implement California’s regulations on all cars, not just ones for California. This means that California will become the de facto national regulator and all Americans will pay a hidden $1,000+ tax per car.

Worse, there are infinitesimally small benefits generated from the planned regulations. In fact, if every car and truck complied with California’s regulation today (in reality, California’s regulation will likely only apply to new cars and trucks) U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases would decrease by 5 percent overnight.[2] But emissions from the rest of the world are increasing so dramatically that by mid-June, emissions increases from the rest of the world make our decrease moot.[3] This small and costly policy would have no noticeable impact on carbon dioxide emissions.

This program hurts family budgets and transportation affordability and provides no real benefits. It is a luxury that our nation should not be subjected to when economic times were good and we certainly cannot afford it now.

President Obama should ensure that Detroit builds cars Americans want to buy, not to satisfy California’s regulators. After all, should the U.S. be forced to follow the policies of a state nearing bankruptcy and losing massive numbers of jobs?

[1] Calculated using the emissions data from the Global Carbon Project. According to EIA (see footnote 2), the GHG emissions from the transportation sector total 28% of total U.S. emissions in 2007. Twenty-eight percent of the U.S.’s 2007 carbon dioxide emissions are 444,139 GgC. The burning of motor gasoline accounts for 59% of the total transportation emissions. Fifty-nine percent of 444,139 GgC is 262,042 GgC. California’s regulations would reduce this amount by 30% or 78,612 GgC. From 2006 to 2007, the world’s carbon dioxide emissions (excluding the United States) increased by 213,436 GgC. At this rate of change, the reductions brought about by applying California’s regulation to the entire transportation system today would be replaced in 134 days.

[2] According to the Energy Information Administration report Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2007, p. 5, U.S. transportation emissions account for 28% of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. According to p. 19 of the same report, motor gasoline accounts for 59% of the total U.S. transportation emissions. The California regulations will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks by about 30 percent. See California Air Resources Board, ARB Approves Greenhouse Gas Rule, Sept. 24, 2004, Thirty percent of 59 percent of 28 percent is 5 percent of the total.

[3] See Footnote 2.

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