Canada Considers Adopting California's More-Stringent Auto Emission Standards

The Canadian government is considering a plan to adopt California's first-in-the-nation rules requiring auto companies to reduce emissions of gases that contribute to global warming, the Mercury News has learned.

Jan. 18—The Canadian government is considering a plan to adopt California's first-in-the-nation rules requiring auto companies to reduce emissions of gases that contribute to global warming, the Mercury News has learned.

The move would increase the likelihood that U.S. automakers, who have challenged the state's rules in court, will be forced to build more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The Canadian ministers of environment and transportation visited California on Monday to learn more about the rules. Invited by the Schwarzenegger administration last fall, they are scheduled to meet today with California EPA Secretary Alan Lloyd, and possibly Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"I think industry sees that we are serious," said Canadian Environment Minister Stephane Dion. "Our trip is a way to show we are resolute."

The stakes are enormous.

The only way to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that most scientists say are causing the Earth's temperature to rise is to burn less gasoline. But the auto industry, the Bush administration and some Detroit Democrats in Congress have blocked tougher mileage standards for years, saying they will harm industry and result in smaller cars that many Americans don't want to buy.

Seven other states have said they will copy California's rules. Environmentalists believe that if Canada orders the tougher standards, its market will put significant pressure on the auto industry despite what Washington, D.C., does. California's population of 35 million people is similar to Canada's 32 million.

"If Canada joins the eight U.S. states, it gets us very close to a tipping point where the manufacturers realize they are going to have to make cleaner cars for the North American market," said Bill Magavern, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club in Sacramento. Magavern estimated that Canada and the eight states make up about 30 percent of the North American passenger vehicle market.

Unlike the United States, Canada in 2002 signed the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that requires reductions in greenhouse gases starting Feb. 16. As a result, Canada is looking for ways to cut its emissions to 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2010.

Dion said Canada has set a goal of improving the fuel efficiency of vehicles by 25 percent by 2010. Several voluntary programs have made progress, but not enough, he said.

The government of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin will make a decision on whether to adopt California's rules "in a matter of weeks," he added.

"It is an option," Dion said. "It would not be so difficult to manage. We would much prefer an agreement than a regulation. But one thing is for sure, we will have the result."

Dion and Transportation Minister Jean LaPierre visited the South Coast Air District in Los Angeles on Monday, and were set to meet with environmentalists, legislators and Schwarzenegger aides at stops in Sacramento today.

"The greenhouse gas regulation is one thing they will discuss," said Michelle St. Martin, a spokeswoman for the California EPA. "They will also share ideas on both sides about oceans, transportation, a variety of issues."

Approved in September by the state's Air Resources Board, California's rules require automakers to reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2009, with a 30 percent reduction by 2016.

In December, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a group of nine automakers, sued to block the rule. The suit argues California has illegally set gas mileage standards, something only the federal government can do.

But the Schwarzenegger administration — taking an opposing viewpoint to the Bush administration — argues greenhouse gases are a form of air pollution which it is allowed to regulate under the U.S. Clean Air Act.

If Canada copies California rules, it would not be bound by U.S. court rulings.

Auto industry representatives said they do not support Canada copying California.

"I certainly understand what California is trying to do," said Dave Barthmuss, a spokesman for General Motors. "They have been on the record saying they are trying to set up a national standard, and an international standard. It isn't surprising to me that they would be hosting a delegation from other nations."

The air board says automakers can trim greenhouse-gas emissions by building more hybrids, designing efficient gas engines, making air conditioners that don't leak or installing tires with less rolling resistance.

Many of these technologies are available on 2005 vehicles, automakers say, but mandating their use across the board would cost Californians an average of $3,000 per vehicle. The air board estimates the cost at about $1,000.

Few scientists argue anymore that the Earth isn't warming. According to the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., the 10 hottest years since the 1880s have all occurred since 1990.

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