Unintended Consequences of Green Chemistry Law

Curt Augustine
Director of Policy & Government Affairs, Alliance of Auto Manufacturers

California has long set the trend for groundbreaking environmental regulations designed to protect consumers from hazardous chemicals and emissions.  Because of this, California has seen its pollution levels drop over the last few decades.  While we still have a ways to go, our progress is encouraging.

Occasionally, however, a well-intended policy creates a host of unintended consequences.  Our state’s 2008 green chemistry law designed to protect consumers from harmful chemicals is a prime example.  Under green chemistry, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is charged with developing a list of chemicals of concern and – if deemed toxic – requiring industries to develop alternatives.

But if applied to automobiles, green chemistry would have a negative effect.  It could:

  • Upend larger passenger safety, emission, and fuel efficiency efforts and complicate the national agreement between automakers and the Obama Administration to increase fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Raise consumer costs by adding to the price of every new vehicle with onerous new regulatory and oversight requirements that duplicate existing efforts.  California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) already certifies every new vehicle before it is sold in state.
  • Negatively impact vehicles already on our roads since no carve out exists for replacement parts, disrupting an automaker’s ability to fulfill customer warranties and repair the existing fleet.  And with the average age of a car on American roads being 11 years, car repair costs would rise for hundreds of thousands of California families.
  • Conflict with ongoing stringent performance, quality, reliability, and safety standards unique to the auto industry.  Today’s cars are cleaner and less polluting than ever before because of major investments by automakers in technology.  According to CARB, current tailpipe emissions of smog forming pollutants are 99.7% cleaner than a car from the 1960s.  And, 86% of a car’s material content comes from recycled materials.
  • Duplicate – and possibly even conflict with – ongoing global efforts within the industry to protect consumers from exposure to materials of concern and reduce their overall use.  For more than a decade automakers have maintained a longstanding industry-focused global substance of concern tracking list and database to actively reduce industry-wide use of substances of concern in global production.  With reviews of more than 2,500 substances used in automotive components in 30 million material data sheets, this system is a well-established tool for identifying substances of concern.  It already minimizes their unnecessary use and helps find better substitutions.
  • Threaten jobs in state.  Thousands of California jobs depend on a healthy auto industry. Because these regulations will raise the cost of vehicles and of the repair of existing vehicles, they could ultimately cost good paying California jobs.  Sales for 2012 were the highest in five years at 14.4 million vehicles, marking three years of double digit gains over prior years’ sales.  Sales forecasts for 2013 are even more promising.  Let’s not derail this continuing progress.

There is an obvious solution: exempt automobiles.  And there is precedent to do so.  While California’s law essentially applies to all consumer products in the state, exceptions have already been granted to products like food, medical devices and drugs that are heavily regulated by the federal and state governments.  Autos should be added to that list.

Automakers applaud Senator Ricardo Lara for standing with the United Autoworkers and thousands of working Californians to address these concerns by introducing SB 498, a measure that will take the auto industry out of California’s green chemistry process.  It’s a common sense measure that will ensure our autos are safe, clean and reliable well in to the future while protecting California jobs and consumers’ wallets.

We need your help to make Senator Lara’s fix a reality.  A critical vote on this bill looms.  Your action is needed to ensure that it passes.  Visit http://www.KeepAutoSafe.org to tell your state legislator to support clean air, California jobs and safe autos.

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