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To fight climate change, California air regulators restore fuel-emission cuts

California's Air Resources Board on Friday approved updates to a key climate change rule that requires oil producers to cut carbon pollution from gasoline and diesel fuels by at least 10 percent by 2020. California is the only the second state to impose such a standard. Ian Lovett of The New York Times joins Hari Sreenivasan from Los Angeles.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Volkswagen's emissions test cheating scandal has us talking about the level of pollutants coming out of cars. But California's air resources board decided Friday to require automakers to cut carbon emissions from gasoline and diesel fuel by 10 percent over the next five years, what goes into cars. California is only the second state to impose such a standard.

    Joining us from Los Angeles to explain is Ian Lovett of "The New York Times."

    So, first of all, just kind of explain carbon fuel standards for someone who hasn't been paying attention.

  • IAN LOVETT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:

    Hi, Hari. So, the rule is designed to cut emissions from gasoline and diesel fuels. And what it means is they're going to require a 10 percent reduction in the carbon content of those fuels by 2020, which will mean incorporating more biofuels like biodiesel.

    Now, California already has the toughest emission standards in the country, but this particular rule had been on hold for last self years because of a lawsuit, and the re-approval on Fridays means that the state can keep moving forward towards the 10 percent reduction, and also that the state can start moving away again from petroleum products and towards alternative fuels.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Now, Governor Brown wanted something much bigger. He got fought down to this. Now, in the process, when the things are in lawsuit, usually, industry or whoever is affected will continue to move in that right direction, just in case they lose, right? So, is California on track to hit these reduction targets?

  • IAN LOVETT:

    So far, yes. California is on track — is what the state is saying. And Governor Brown has made reducing greenhouse gases a big legacy issue in his final term. But he is still facing huge opposition from the oil and gas industry. And this came through a real dramatic head a couple of weeks ago. He had tried to push through a separate bill which would have called for a 50 percent reduction in the U.S. of all petroleum products over the next 15 years, by 2030.

    But the oil industry blanketed the state with ads, warning about not only spikes in gas prices, but also even gas rationing or things like bans on minivans. And it really did successfully give people pause about what laws like this might do.

    And Governor Brown eventually withdrew the bill. It was one of the first major political losses for him over the last couple of years. And he vowed to keep pushing towards the same goals through the regulator process instead.

    So, what we're seeing with the re-approval of the low carbon fuel standard is the type of thing that he's going to be doing through the regulatory process over the next couple of years.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What are the price implications? Is there enough supply of alternative fuels to — for Californians to keep driving like they are?

  • IAN LOVETT:

    So, that is the big question is what the effect of this is going to be on gas prices. And the state is projecting that this rule in particular will lead to a maybe 13 cent per gallon raise in gas prices by 2020. But this is part of a much larger package of environmental bills that California has improved, which also includes fuel standards for vehicles and public transit, and development around public transit.

    And so, the state is painting a very rosy picture, saying that even if gas prices go up slightly, people will actually be spending less at the pump because they won't need as much gasoline as they have before.

    Now, the oil industry is telling a very different story, of course. And over the summer, they were very successful in being able to make people really wonder about how laws that try to reduce or dependents on petroleum will affect people economically. And I think the big question going forward is if prices do start to go up, how will people react? Because so far, Californians have been willing to support environmental laws, even if that has meant a small hit to their pocketbooks. But if it becomes a larger hit, it really remains to be seen.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Ian Lovett of "The New York Times" joining us from Los Angeles — thanks so much.

  • IAN LOVETT:

    Thank you, Hari.

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