SACRAMENTO — The California Senate, in a bow to environmental activists and fears of global warming, passed the nation’s first bill Thursday proposing to limit carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle exhaust.
Senate Democrats prevailed in a 22-13 vote to override fierce objections of global carmakers and auto dealers who called the bill a backdoor attempt to make them sell smaller more fuel-efficient vehicles.
“It’s going to whiplash our California car market without any benefit for our consumers,” said Peter Welch, representing the California Motor Car Dealers Association. “We just think it’s a dumb idea.”
The legislation, which passed the Democrat-dominated state Assembly in January, now returns to the Assembly for agreement on Senate changes. If the Assembly agrees, the bill goes to Gov. Gray Davis.
Davis spokesman Russ Lopez said the governor has not indicated a position.
Davis, running for re-election in November, faces a barrage of lobbying on one of the year’s most contentious bills. Support includes the state’s largest cities, Silicon Valley business executives, water districts that rely on Sierra Nevada snowmelt and celebrities ranging from Leonardo DiCaprio to Barbra Streisand.
Opponents lining up with carmakers and car dealers include the United Auto Workers Union, the California Farm Bureau Federation and California Chamber of Commerce, representing much of the state’s business community.
The bill, sponsored by the San Francisco-based Bluewater Network and other environmental groups, gives global automakers until 2009 to begin restricting their California output of carbon dioxide, a natural byproduct of fuel combustion. Backers say 40 percent of California’s “greenhouse gases” that contribute to global warming come from California’s 22.8 million cars, trucks and buses.
“We think is great news,” said Bluewater campaign director Elisa Lynch. “If this bill passes it will finally force the auto industry to put money into hiring engineers to make better vehicles instead of hiring lawyers and lobbyists to fight good legislation.”
But opponents maintain that California vehicles create one-tenth of one percent of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions.
The bill, AB1058 carried by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, requires the California Air Resources Board to write regulations by Jan. 1, 2005, to limit carbon dioxide from noncommercial cars and light trucks. Pavley has said she hopes other states follow California’s lead.
Legislators would have a year to review the regulations and carmakers and three more years to begin complying with them.
Domestic and international automakers have maintained through a contentious series of committee hearings this year that restricting natural gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, nitrous oxide and methane are greatly different from past efforts to limit toxic emissions such as ozone and diesel soot. Industry representatives said no technology exists to restrict natural gases.
Republican senators, including Sen. Maurice Johannessen, R-Redding, called Thursday’s vote a “rush to judgment” and questioned the scientific legitimacy of global warming itself.
“There’s enough evidence to debunk that,” Johannessen said.
Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Northridge, said, “This is not some sort of exotic pollutant. We’re talking about carbon dioxide. We’re talking about the stuff we all exhale.” McClintock ridiculed the bill as part of a California cultural phenomenon he called “Kumbayah uber alles.”
Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey, expressed harsh criticism of carmakers, citing their past resistance to seat belts, air bags and catalytic converters.
“Their credibility,” she said, “is so low the only thing to do is just ignore them.”