CO2 fight hinges on pain at the pump

Exhaust flows out of a car tailpipe. California's tougher emissions standards may have been struck down by the federal government, but the battle over more fuel-efficient cars may hinge on how high gas prices will go.

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Kai Ryssdal: It's a fine day here in Southern California -- warm, not too much crud in the air -- which makes it a good time for the Environmental Protection Agency to wade back into the debate over automobile exhaust.

Today, the EPA released its formal justification for denying California's bid to crack down on vehicle emissions. The actual decision, you might remember, came back in December. Administrator Stephen Johnson said California doesn't have a compelling enough reason to have its own rules.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer has more on standards, car makers and consumers.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: Automakers would pass the costs of complying with the new emissions standards on to consumers, but California says new car buyers would still save money. Cars with lower emissions use less gas.

Tom Cackette is with the California Air Resources Board:

Tom Cackette: Prices will go up as much as $1,000 on the sticker of a new vehicle and you will save more than $1,000 in fuel within the first three years.

But Morningstar auto industry analyst David Whiston hasn't seen any independent studies reaching that conclusion and he says California's stricter standards would be a costly, logistical nightmare for car makers:

David Whiston: You can't have cars coming out of a factory and being shipped to California to meet one federal requirement and to Texas for another.

But Cackette says carmakers could decide to make all vehicles California compliant, especially if other states also cut emissions. But Detroit hasn't had much luck with the greener vehicles it's already selling. Even Kermit the Frog struck out with his commercial for the Ford escape hybrid:

Kermit the Frog: It's not that easy being green...

Charles Territo of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says fuel efficiency just doesn't sell:

Charles Territo: Last year more than 53 percent of all new vehicles purchased in the U.S. were minivans, vans, SUVs and pickup trucks, even with higher gas prices.

The question is how high gas prices go before consumers decide being green saves enough green. Then the California standards would be moot.

In Washington, I''m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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