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Automakers Agree to Cut Emissions In Canada
By Greg Schneider
Major automakers signed an agreement yesterday with the government of
Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new cars and trucks, a move
hailed by environmentalists as a breakthrough that could force the industry
to sell cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles in the United States as well.
Many of the same manufacturers have filed suit to fight a similar but more
restrictive effort in California. The car companies' lobbying group said
yesterday that Canada's program is a better template for working to reduce
emissions in the United States than the California program.
"What Canada has done is arrived at an agreement that is voluntary
nationwide and auto-industry-wide. It's not one province setting its own
program, it's a national effort, so that's an important difference with the
United States," said Gloria Bergquist of the U.S.-based Alliance of
Automobile Manufacturers, which represents most of the major car companies
The Canadian agreement was hammered out by the country's natural resources
department and two trade associations representing the major automakers. It
calls for annual greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes to drop by 5.3
million tons by 2010. That's a nearly 6 percent reduction in the total
amount of greenhouse gas emissions projected from all vehicles in Canada
that year, according to government figures. The reduction in emissions from
new vehicles in 2010 would be far greater than 6 percent, but officials said
they could not put a figure on that amount.
Greenhouse gases consist primarily of carbon dioxide, as well as nitrous
oxide and several hydrocarbons that are thought by many experts to
contribute to global warming. Carbon dioxide is an unavoidable byproduct of
burning petroleum in engines, so the only practical way to reduce it is to
improve gas mileage. Other greenhouse gases can be reduced in other ways,
including using different types of air-conditioning coolant.
Yesterday's agreement "is a very important step forward because it not only
cleans up Canada's vehicles but also bolsters the effort for cleaner cars in
the United States," said Dan Becker, Washington director of the Sierra
Club's global warming program.
California has enacted a regulation calling for reducing greenhouse gases
by roughly 30 percent by 2016, and seven eastern states that follow
California's clean-air policies are considering following suit. Together,
those states and Canada represent nearly a third of the total North American
auto market -- a level that environmentalists say would be an economic
"tipping point" that would cause widespread changes in automotive
"We're very baffled why [the manufacturers] are telling the Canadian
government they can build cleaner cars there but they're fighting us here in
California," said Roland Hwang, vehicle policy director for the Natural
Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. "Americans shouldn't have to
cross the border to buy cleaner cars like prescription drugs."
The difference lies in the way Canada approached the problem, several auto
industry officials said. The Canadian government initially wanted to get the
auto industry to improve fuel economy by 33 percent. That would have reduced
greenhouse gases by 5.3 million tons a year, so the industry turned the
proposal on its head: The companies agreed to reach the emissions target if
they could do so in a variety of ways other than just improving fuel
economy, which is considered expensive and technologically challenging.
The government still expects improvements in fuel economy, "but we don't
know what they'll be," said Paul Khanna, senior adviser for vehicle fuel
efficiency at Natural Resources Canada.
Instead, car companies can mount programs to change driving habits, install
tire pressure gauges on all vehicles to improve performance, replace
air-conditioning coolant, and take any number of other steps, as long as the
final outcome is reduced greenhouse gases, Khanna said. The agreement
carries no penalties for not reaching reduction targets, but the government
could impose mandatory regulations if the companies fail to act.
California, by contrast, has focused on reducing carbon dioxide
specifically, which the industry claims could be done only by using radical
technologies to improve gas mileage.
Auto companies are challenging the California law in court, arguing that
only the federal government has authority to regulate fuel economy. In
addition, the industry argues that it cannot function with a patchwork of
varying greenhouse gas standards around the country.
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