North Carolina Tries Toughening Up Emissions Standards

NC Rep. Price Harrison hopes that the third time's a charm when he reintroduces legislation requiring higher auto emissions standards. If it passes, the state's standards may start looking more like California's within the coming year.

"Federal environmental regulators announced last week that they will reconsider a request by California and 13 other states to control greenhouse gases from motor vehicles. That may kick-start debates in other states about which is preferable, the so-called federal CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standard or the more stringent California standard.

The Obama administration plans to set new federal standards for 2011 model-year autos as part of a 2007 law to require new cars and trucks to achieve 35 miles per gallon by 2020, a 40 percent increase. The California standard would yield an estimated fuel economy of 43 miles per gallon by 2020.

An analysis by the N.C. Division of Air Quality suggests that the California rules would be more effective at reducing greenhouse gases than the federal CAFE program. The agency estimates that adopting the California standards instead of the federal standards would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 40 percent between 2009 and 2020.

'Emissions is not something people talk about when they go buy a car,' said Anne Tazewell, transportation program manager at the N.C. Solar Center at N.C. State University. 'It's a big issue. Vehicles are a major source of our urban air quality problems.'"

Full Story: Third volley for cleaner cars



Why regulate when you can tax?

I prefer a simple carbon tax to fuel economy regulations. Regulations force the "average" car in a car-makers' fleet to be a certain fuel economy, but they don't guarantee that consumers will buy the cars that are more efficient. Under this situation, the average car a car-maker makes can get more efficient while the average car the car-buyer buys could get less efficient anyway.

A carbon tax forces consumers to pay the full cost of their gasoline use, including the cost of the pollution they cause. The revenue raised would be a natural source of capital to invest in clean-renewable electricity and vehicles like plug-in hybrid cars that can run on it.

A carbon tax rewards people who save gas and punishes people who waste it. That will lead to better results than complex and costly regulations that don't guarantee success (although, in the absence of will to tax carbon, the regulations are better than nothing).

Start with a small tax, even as small as 1 cent per gallon. Then, raise it enough to protect the environment without causing excessive short-run economic damage.

At the state level, raising the tax too much could cause some people to go over state lines to buy gas (possibly increasing pollution). That's why it's important for the federal government to step up and tax carbon as well.

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