Dan Walters: Davis signs 'greenhouse gas' bill amid hoopla,


Jun 10, 2002
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Dan Walters: Davis signs 'greenhouse gas' bill amid hoopla, but impacts uncertain
By Dan Walters -- Bee Columnist
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Wednesday, July 24, 2002
The e-mail from an out-of-state reader was brief and to the point: "My husband and I are thinking about moving to California, but we do not want to move to a state that taxes SUVs or is thinking about banning SUVs. What is the answer? Is Governor Davis signing a bill regarding these issues?"

The answer to the final question is easy enough. Yes, indeed, Gov. Gray Davis did sign a bill "regarding these issues" amid much highly orchestrated media hoopla on Monday. It's a measure that purports to reduce "greenhouse gas" emissions from California autos. But the much-debated legislation is scarcely more than vaguely worded symbolism whose ultimate impacts can only be guessed.

Davis conducted two bill-signing ceremonies in the state's two major population and media centers, Los Angeles and San Francisco, against carefully chosen backdrops. At Los Angeles' Griffith Park Observatory, Davis discussed its impact with local families, then walked 40 yards down a hiking trail to the site of the actual bill-signing. San Francisco's site was on a seaside bluff. The idea, obviously, was to give the TV cameras something more scenic than a talking head.

Davis, of course, touted his action as historically significant. By signing the bill, his announcement said, he was "putting California at the forefront of a worldwide effort to reduce greenhouse gases."

"This is the first law in America to substantively address the greatest environmental challenge of the 21st century," Davis declared. "In time, every state -- and hopefully every country -- will act to protect future generations from the threat of global warming. For California, that time is now."

Davis' interest in generating maximum media exposure is self-evident. He's involved in a fairly tough re-election fight and needs to have the Democratic Party base pulling for him, but the left-leaning elements of the party, particularly environmentalists, are decidedly cool to his many gestures toward business. There's a latent fear among his advisers that if not addressed, indifference among environmentalists could produce a fairly strong showing for the Green Party candidate, Peter Camejo, that could cost Davis an otherwise close contest with Republican Bill Simon. Davis, therefore, surrounded himself with environmentalists, including Sierra Club President Carl Pope.

Although Davis is happy to use the greenhouse gas bill to shore up his environmental credentials, he would not want to have it become a rallying cause for anti-Davis sentiment, which is why Monday's ceremony took place more than three weeks after the legislation was hustled through both houses of the Legislature. Its delivery to Davis was stalled by legislative leaders to make it virtually impossible for the measure's opponents, principally automakers, to qualify a referendum for the November ballot to overturn it. And that maneuver reflects the uncertainty over the actual impacts of the bill, AB 1493.

As written, the measure merely directs the Air Resources Board to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, in new vehicles beginning in 2009, without specifying levels of reduction or what steps will be taken to do it. It's so vague that both opponents and proponents are free to speculate what real-world impact it will have on motorists seven years hence.

Proponents such as Davis are downplaying that impact, saying it won't necessarily restrict the availability of low-mileage vehicles such as SUVs, or lead to higher taxes on cars and/or fuel. "Opponents are saying the sky is falling," the governor said Monday. "But they said that about unleaded gasoline. They said it about catalytic converters. They said that about seat belts and air bags. But the sky is not falling. It's just getting a whole lot cleaner."

By the same token, opponents are free to predict taxes, bans on certain cars and other draconian impacts on the motoring public because some academic scenarios mention them as ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And Davis didn't want a barrage of negative TV ads hitting the airwaves while he was seeking re-election.

The only thing that's certain is that whatever impacts the legislation produces, if any, won't be felt until after Davis' reign as governor is ended.

(Edited by gwhunter69 at 8:52 am on July 24, 2002)
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