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States Adopt California's Greenhouse Gas Limits

Traffic on Interstate 5 in Portland, Ore. Following California, Oregon has temporarily adopted greenhouse gas limits.
Traffic on Interstate 5 in Portland, Ore. Following California, Oregon has temporarily adopted greenhouse gas limits. (By Greg Wahl-stephens -- Associated Press)

The confrontation over the California rules is one of the biggest air-quality fights in years. Environmentalists consider the regulations a landmark in their campaign against global warming. The conflict has brought together a number of players. State regulators have banded together and are closely monitoring developments in Washington. Environmental organizations have been building coalitions with health-focused and faith-based groups. Activists have initiated protest campaigns against Toyota Motor Corp. and Ford Motor Co., two automakers that have heavily promoted themselves as being environment-friendly and are parties to the suit.

Vehicle emissions are the No. 2 -- and fastest-growing -- source of greenhouse gases, after power plants, a number of scientists and regulators say.

"For greenhouse gases, the federal government hasn't taken any action at all, and California has," said Andrew Ginsburg, Oregon's air quality administrator. "It's clear the federal government won't do it unless California paves the way and enough other states opt in."

Oregon's decision to adopt the California rules is temporary. Ginsburg said he expected permanent approval to come by summer.

Gina McCarthy, commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Environmental Protection, said states are growing increasingly concerned with fluctuations in temperature but lack tools to deal with the problem.

McCarthy said Connecticut has sought to lower emissions by buying hundreds of hybrid cars and eliminating the sales tax on hybrids sold in the state.

"If you look at greenhouse gas emissions, we can log what's coming from households and business sectors," McCarthy said. "The area where it continues to grow is the transportation sector as people travel more and more and there are heavier, less-fuel-efficient cars on the road. It's a growing concern because states have so little ability to impact that."

California, once again, is leading the charge. The state began regulating air quality in the 1960s. Since then, the state has steadily pushed ahead with tougher clean-car regulations, angering the auto industry along the way. In the 1960s and 1970s, California advocated adoption of the catalytic converter, a now-ubiquitous device bolted underneath vehicles that breaks down most toxins before they hit the air. In the 1990s, the state's regulations sparked engineering and technical innovations that led to the development of today's gas-electric hybrid cars.

Environmentalists say they fear that the rest of the world is passing the United States by adopting tougher standards. Steve Hinchman, staff attorney a the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation, said the United States is in danger of becoming a "technological backwater" by not acting.

"The whole world is moving. Canada, Europe, China, Japan, Korea, India are all adopting more stringent standards," he said. "We are going to become the dumping ground for the dirtiest cars made in the world. China will have more stringent standards than the U.S. in 2010. That's only a few years away."

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