SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — The California Senate has passed the nation's first bill to limit carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle exhaust a bow to fears of global warming, and a move automakers say might force them to sell more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Environmentalists and many senators, hoping to see the idea spread to other states, see the move as a way to get around the federal government's failure to impose tougher fuel mileage standards and reduce greenhouse gases.
"Our federal government has let us down by failing to sign the Kyoto Protocol," Democratic state Sen. Debra Bowen said. "California should take the lead when the federal government refused to do what most Californians support."
A coalition of 13 global carmakers calls that "enormously problematic."
"We view it as nothing more than a California CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standard," said Kris Kiser, vice president of state affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers based in Washington, D.C. "It's a back-door attempt at mileage standards. That should be handled in Washington."
Senate Democrats prevailed in a 22-13 vote Thursday, overriding fierce objections from carmakers and auto dealers. A similar bill already passed the Democrat-dominated Assembly. If the Assembly agrees to the Senate's changes, the bill would go to Gov. Gray Davis.
Davis spokesman Russ Lopez said the governor had not indicated a position.
The bill, sponsored by various environmental groups, gives global automakers until 2009 to begin restricting their California output of carbon dioxide, a natural byproduct of fuel combustion. Backers say 40 percent of California's "greenhouse gases" that contribute to global warming come from the state's 22.8 million cars, trucks and buses.
Opponents including the United Auto Workers Union, the California Farm Bureau Federation and the California Chamber of Commerce called the bill a backdoor attempt to make them sell smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Domestic and international automakers have maintained through a contentious series of committee hearings that restricting natural gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, nitrous oxide and methane is greatly different from past efforts to limit toxic emissions such as ozone and diesel soot. Industry representatives say no technology exists to restrict natural gases.