Wednesday, August 29, 2007

My high-CARB diet

I went for a jog the other day in the neighborhood near my house and had a thought while plodding up a steep sidewalk near home, coughing as I watched SUVs, pickups and motorcycles belching up smoke near my path.

Maybe it was allergies, or maybe it was the fact that I’ve been reading and learning more about emissions for stories on the Land Line Web site, but as I made my way up the hill gasp after gasp, I began to wonder how much vehicle exhaust – particularly the cloudy stuff – my already asthmatic lungs were inhaling.

Beginning in the spring, Land Line Managing Editor Sandi Soendker assigned me to the magazine’s emissions beat. After only a few days, it was obvious that emissions talk in the U.S. begins and ends with the California Air Resources Board.

CARB is familiar to most truckers because the agency makes most of the nation’s toughest truck engine regulations. The agency was also featured prominently in the documentary movie “Who Killed the Electric Car,” about GM’s plans for zero-emissions cars after CARB removed a mandate for automakers to introduce battery-powered cars to the general public.

A few weeks ago, we ran a three-part series on CARB and how the agency’s growing influence was accelerated by last year’s passage of California Assembly Bill 32, which made CARB responsible for lowering greenhouse gas emissions that affect climate change and global warming.

Yesterday I spoke with Mary Nichols, CARB’s new chairman, about her recent appointment (July) and about the agency’s direction.

I found Chairman Nichols to be quite intelligent and articulate, and enjoyed hearing some of her answers regarding where CARB is headed and what it’s like working with the Governator.

A former EPA employee and UCLA faculty member, Nichols would be listed atop any who’s who list of environmental policy wonks. Those qualities are likely what made her an attractive appointment for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in early July, when Schwarzenegger quieted many who criticized his green credentials after he fired former CARB Chairman Robert Sawyer.

Responding to a question about whether she wants California wants to be the standard bearer for greenhouse gas emissions rules, Nichols told me the state’s variety and breadth lends itself to being at the forefront of many innovations.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the interview:

“We can lead the way in California, although other countries, particularly some of the European countries like Germany and Great Britain in particular, have already staked out leadership positions in a number of different areas relating to climate challenge, so we can’t claim that California is the first to have discovered this or to have worked on the problem.

“But for a state that has the size, the diversity of economy, the diversity of population, the mix of agriculture and manufacturing, and knowledge industries and high-tech, we definitely are the place that if you can do it here, you can do it anywhere.”

My co-workers tend to believe I’ve spent entirely too much time reading and learning about greenhouse gases, but it seems to me that the entire country has gone green – if in name only.

Public relations and law firms are now emphasizing expertise in marketing and development of the environmental side of business.

Beginning today, the EPA is holding several workshops to consider lowering the federal 8-hour ozone limits to California’s standard by next year.

Next time you’re out and about during the heat of the day and you feel a short breath, take comfort in the fact that it’s not all due to stress from government red tape.

It seems that many in this country won’t be breathing easier until all vehicles are zero-emissions-based.