Pavley’s Ploy May Carjack Motorists

Plan will hurt taxpayers, but won't dent global warming

How bad is the auto emissions bill? … Let me count the ways.

California’s war on sport utility vehicles shifted into high gear with the backroom passage Monday of a bill that would commandeer consumer choice in automobiles under the largely fraudulent pretense of combating global warming. This is political carjacking at its worst.

Unable to pass federal fuel-economy regulations to stop people from driving the larger, more comfortable cars they want, environmentalists have taken their efforts to Sacramento.

A bill by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) was the car haters’ vehicle of choice because anything affecting the huge California car market is likely to affect the rest of the country. The measure, if signed by the governor, would make California the first state to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. Unable to pass the bill through the normal legislative process, Pavley had its language inserted into a nonenvironmental, technical bill sitting on the Senate floor and got it voted out of the Senate on Saturday. Call it “Pavley’s Ploy,” in case they change its name again to further confuse the public. The bill is now on Gov. Gray Davis’ desk.

Pavley’s Ploy is supposed to reduce California’s emission of gases that some computer models hold responsible for global warming. But the numbers suggest that Pavley’s Ploy isn’t about preventing global warming. It’s about preventing you from buying that next truck or SUV or driving the one you have as much as you want.

According to government emissions data, California motorists produce less than one-quarter of 1% of the world’s emissions of the gases theoretically linked to global warming. According to government computer models, about 80% of observed or predicted global warming is because of greenhouse gases, most of the rest being caused by changes in land use for farming, forestry and so on. Whatever its other effects, when it comes to preventing global warming, this bill would provide virtually no benefit to future generations.

The only way to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide from cars (the main greenhouse gas they produce) is to either reduce the amount of fuel they collectively burn or change to a fuel that puts out less carbon dioxide per unit of energy. And the only way to do that is through mandating technology that would lighten and shrink cars, levying fuel taxes to reduce driving, adding per-mile driving fees to keep motorists off the road or pushing “alternative fuel” technology such as natural gas and electric-powered cars.

All those approaches have known failings, expose people to more risks and deprive them of consumer choice, suck resources out of the economy and sink those resources into bureaucratic paper-shuffling.

While climate change is still largely theoretical, the damaging effects of regulatory approaches like these are well-established facts. Not to put too fine a point on it, but forcing people into smaller cars would kill some of them. The National Academy of Sciences has acknowledged that lighter and smaller cars are inherently more dangerous. And no, that’s not simply in collisions with SUVs. That’s also true in accidents when some lightweight cars hit a guardrail.

Pavley’s Ploy would also slow down the fight against the better-understood pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter because anything that raises the price of new cars reduces the single biggest positive force in easing air pollution: buying a new, less-polluting car.

Worse still, taking money out of people’s pockets for higher fuel and automobile costs will mean less for other needs, such as education and health care.

The degradation of transparency in California’s Legislature is only the first harm that Pavley’s Ploy would foist on the public. If Gov. Davis signs the legislation, Californians will be poorer for it.

Dr. Kenneth Green is senior fellow at Reason Foundation and Chief Scientist at Frasier Institute.