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Starting emissions waiver process lets Golden State dictate costly U.S. rules

January 28, 2009

By Max Schulz

In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama quoted the verse from Scripture that declares, "The time has come to set aside childish things." Yet his first major environmental decision represents politics at its most childish and irresponsible.

At issue is whether the Obama administration should grant California a waiver from federal law on auto tailpipe emissions and allow the Golden State to set its own, more stringent standards on emissions and fuel economy.

California has sought this waiver for several years to comply with an ambitious mandate to curb greenhouse-gas emissions that the state Legislature passed in 2006. The Bush administration denied California's request, arguing that Washington should set standardized policies affecting the auto industry. Obama indicated throughout the campaign that he would grant California's waiver. This week he put the administrative wheels in motion to do just that.

In theory, letting California pass its own laws and deal with the consequences represents the essence of federalism's guarantee of states' rights. But in this case, advocates admit their aim is the opposite. They want to use California to circumvent federal law and substitute Sacramento's more onerous regulations for the ones that Congress passed in the 2007 energy bill.

It's already quite costly for the nation's automakers to meet federal mileage-efficiency mandates. It would be cost-prohibitive for them to tailor their product lines to satisfy rules for 50 different states.

Henry Ford showed that mass production is the key to making cars affordable. Even if California were the only state with its own separate standards, allowing it this privilege would toss Ford Motor Co.'s cost-lowering efficiencies out the window. Because of California's enormous automobile market, carmakers would likely adjust their entire fleets to meet California's strictures.

The practical effect would be that cars manufactured in Detroit and the South would cost more and be made of lighter, less crash-resistant materials. Translation: higher sticker prices and more highway fatalities nationwide.

California's law applies to cars sold, rather than made, in the state. California no longer has its own auto industry. Decades of aggressive anti-energy policies have caused energy prices in California to skyrocket, driving heavy industry to more business-friendly locales. Still, California wants to regulate an industry located elsewhere.

Green groups are hailing Obama's move as bold, decisive leadership to address climate change, just as they celebrate California's muscular approach to regulating emissions.

But Obama's decision just passes the buck. The idea is to implement costly regulations that Obama is unwilling or unable to persuade Congress to endorse, despite heavy Democratic majorities in both houses.

One of Washington's few explicit constitutional responsibilities is to regulate interstate commerce and prevent states or localities from hijacking it.

By granting California its waiver and letting Sacramento's out-of-touch political class make the laws that all Americans must follow, Obama serves as an accomplice to a theft of the federal government's legal authority. If that's not irresponsible, what is?

Original Source:



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