California Car Emissions Rise as Trump's Cuts to Standards Loom

(Bloomberg) -- A new report shows California is failing to cut greenhouse gas pollution from automobiles just as the Trump administration is poised to revoke the state’s right to regulate its tailpipes in pursuit of a single, national standard.

Climate pollution from transportation hasn’t slowed since 2012 and now represents more than 40 percent of the state’s total, according to an annual assessment from Next 10, a San Francisco based non-profit. The figure represents a “worrisome trend” in a state that has achieved its overall 2020 climate change goal -- to push annual emissions below 1990 levels -- four years early.

The report could become part of an expected confrontation between the state and White House. The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed earlier this month new auto efficiency regulations, including a provision that would revoke California’s ability to issue tailpipe limits that are tougher than federal ones.

A combination of factors keeps pushing transportation emissions higher, according to Next 10’s 10th annual California Green Innovation Index. Californians have shown an increasing aversion to use public transit. Difficulty finding affordable housing near work means people have to drive more to their jobs. Lower gasoline prices are always greeted warmly -- but attract drivers to pick-ups and sport utility vehicles from more fuel-efficient smaller cars.

Emissions from cars and other light-duty vehicles in 2016 hovered near the 2008 level of 118 million metric tons of carbon dioxide or its equivalent. Truck emissions continued to decline at a rate insufficient to make up for the added tailpipe pollution.

“It has become clear that the transportation sector is heading in the wrong direction,” according to the report. “A notable increase in GHG emissions in recent years means the sector is now California’s largest source of total emissions.”

The anomalous transportation numbers blemish Next 10’s otherwise upbeat story of long-term transformation in economic growth and energy use. Rates of change in per capita greenhouse gas emissions and California’s gross domestic product continue to part ways. Per capita GDP increased at 2.3 percent from 2015 to 2016. Emissions fell at 3.4 percent at the same time. California ranked third globally among nations investing venture capital in clean technologies last year buoyed by $1.4 billion -- behind China ($4.1 billion) and the U.S. ($2.5 billion).

The slide in transportation emissions sullies the popular image of California as the clean-tech-savvy home to Tesla Inc. and 8 percent of the world’s on-road electric car fleet -- equal to the rest of the U.S.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.