SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gray Davis said Wednesday that he is "strongly inclined" to sign legislation that would make California the first state to regulate automobile emissions of greenhouse gases to combat global warming.
The Democratic governor made the remark during a morning interview with a San Francisco radio station, but cautioned that he was still reviewing the measure and some amendments made before its passage Monday by the state Assembly.
"Most Americans believe that we can have the choice of the auto or truck we want, and still do a better job with the cleaning up [of] the environment around us," Davis said during the interview with KGO news radio. "I believe this bill strikes the appropriate balance, and that's why I'm strongly inclined to sign it."
A day earlier, when asked for a position on the emissions bill, Davis' Republican rival in this fall's elections, businessman Bill Simon, told the same radio station that he was unsure whether global warming exists.
"Reducing global warming, if indeed there is such a thing as global warming, is always a good idea," Simon said during the radio interview, adding that he would review the measure closely to ensure that it was based on solid scientific principles before taking a stance.
That was a change for Simon, whose campaign issued a news release in May quoting Simon as saying an earlier but nearly identical version of the legislation was "social engineering" and "a thinly veiled attempt to regulate the kind of vehicles Californians are allowed to drive."
On Wednesday, the Simon campaign released a statement saying that Simon was concerned about the measure because it gave a "blank check" to the same government agency that pushed to put the gasoline additive MTBE in the state's gas supply to reduce air pollution. MTBE was subsequently shown to pollute groundwater supplies, and the state is now planning to phase it out.
The global warming bill, AB 1493 by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), has been the focus of an intense political battle between environmentalists and business interests and could lead to changes in the design of cars sold all over the country.
It seeks to limit the releasing of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, and would direct the California Air Resources Board to come up with regulations that achieve the "maximum feasible reduction" of the gases while taking costs into account. Because the easiest known way to reduce the emissions in cars and trucks is to design ones that burn less fuel, that would be the likely outcome.
California is the nation's largest car market, making up roughly 10% of all cars sold. The state is also the only one in the nation that has the power to pass air pollution rules that are stronger than those set by the federal government. Other states can then follow the new standard set by California, and have done so on a number of occasions.
An opposition ad campaign financed by auto makers, oil companies and others warned California consumers that they could see higher taxes and could be denied the right to drive trucks and sport-utility vehicles as a result of the legislation. But the air board does not have the power to raise taxes, and the measure specifically states that no car types would be outlawed.
Davis' constituent affairs department reported Wednesday that phone calls to the governor were running slightly in favor of the measure, while e-mails were running overwhelmingly in support. Opponents were planning a letter-writing campaign.
Davis has 12 days to decide whether to sign or veto the measure. But the clock does not start ticking until he formally receives the bill on his desk. It is still being processed after clearing the Legislature.