On Emissions, CA Lawmaker Questions Whether CA Should Lead the Way

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Lisa Jackson today told House members that she would soon begin work on new auto fuel-efficiency rules for the year 2017 and beyond, responding to calls from carmakers searching for certainty -- and warily eyeing the new fuel standards being crafted in California.

The political and legal jockeying that ultimately led the White House to a deal on higher U.S. auto fuel standards began in California, where stronger efficiency rules were adopted, shut down by the Bush administration, and later embraced by 13 other states. 

Now, as the Golden State sets to work on its fuel standards for the year 2017, the endpoint of the current White House efficiency rules, clean energy advocates are vowing to push California officials for the strongest possible auto emissions limits. If California can set the stage for nationwide progress on fuel-efficiency once, the theory goes, it can easily happen again.

But not every California lawmaker is convinced that the state should be a pioneer. At today's House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing, Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) openly wondered whether California should continue prodding the rest of the nation towards greater energy efficiency -- a question equally applicable to the state's law limiting broader carbon emissions.

After noting that she spoke as "a proud Californian," Bono Mack asked Jackson, "If California changes their standards, are you saying we all have to agree with their standards?"

Choosing her words carefully, Jackson told Bono Mack (one of only eight Republicans to vote in favor of last year's House climate change bill) that the Obama administration's new fuel-efficiency rule "was the way to achieve smart legislation.

"I don't think I can simply say" whether California's environmental moves are certain to pave the way for national action on emissions caps, Jackson added, "because the trick of legislation will be to put [regulatory] authorities together in ways that get you [deals like] the clean car rule."

Jackson's cautious response came as she continues to beat back bipartisan efforts in both chambers of Congress to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas pollution in the absence of legislative progress on the issue. Yanking the EPA's formal "endangerment finding" on the public health effects of the changing climate, Jackson told the House panel, "would forfeit one quarter of the combined EPA-DOT program’s [auto] fuel savings and one third of its greenhouse gas emissions."