Former regulator says greenhouse gas rules could cause more pollution

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(Host) A former environmental regulator told a federal court today that Vermont’s new greenhouse gas rules would backfire and cause more air pollution.

The testimony was part of the industry’s argument against the regulations that limit carbon dioxide emissions from cars.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) For two weeks, experts for the auto industry have taken the stand and testified to the dire consequences of Vermont’s new greenhouse controls. The case will be decided by U.S. District Judge William Sessions, not by a jury.

On Monday, consultant Thomas Austin was the lead witness. In the early 1980s, Austin was director of the California Air Resources Board. Nine states – including Vermont – have followed California’s lead in adopting new rules that require a 40% reduction in vehicle CO2 emissions by 2016.

But Austin said the rules would add between $2,500 to $4,500 to the cost of new cars, depending on the manufacturer.

He said the higher sticker price would lead people to hold on to older vehicles longer. And since older vehicles pollute more, Austin said the rules would actually have the unintended consequence of causing more air pollution.

The industry has also challenged the technical feasibility of meeting the new rules. Austin told the court that the industry cannot comply with the regulations by 2016, the date they’re supposed to go fully into effect. He said car companies need 12 years from now to meet the requirements.

Charles Territo is a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. He said last week that the rules represent a huge and potentially impossible leap in fuel economy.

(Territo) “The types of fuel economy regulation increases that are envisioned by this regulation is just not technologically feasible. Currently, the standard for passenger cars is about 27.5 miles per gallon. This regulation would regulate a standard of about 43.6 miles per gallon.”

(Dillon) But under cross examination, Austin, the industry’s expert acknowledged that he did not take into account President Bush’s own proposal to boost fuel economy by 4 percent a year. A lawyer for the state suggested that if that 4 percent annual improvement were followed, the manufacturers would be close to meeting the Vermont rules.

And Steve Hinchman, a lawyer for the Conservation law Foundation, said some car makers will have no problem meeting the clean air requirements.

(Hinchman) “Leaders in the industry, if you look at Honda Toyota for example, you see companies that already comply for the first three years of the rule and they’re on pace to comply completely in the final year of the rule. Those are the companies with increased market share, with increased profitability. The lesson there is plain. Companies that are building the cleaner cars are going to win the ultimate fight, which is the hearts and minds of the consumer.”

(Dillon) Hinchman also disputed the industry’s argument that the rules will lead to more air pollution. He said consumers will want to buy the new, cleaner cars because they’ll save money through better mileage.

The trial is expected to go until early May. The state and environment groups will call their own experts to make the case that the industry can comply with the new clean air requirements.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Burlington.

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