Canadian officials, who are considering regulations to reduce carbon dioxide exhaust from cars and trucks, are spending a few days this week getting a firsthand look at their primary inspiration: California.
Although Canada has not decided whether it will follow California's lead by requiring automakers to cut greenhouse gases to combat global warming, the country's environment minister noted Monday that doing so could have a powerful cumulative effect.
If Canada and New York and other Northeastern states all pass California-style greenhouse gas regulations, "we would be at least a third of the market," Environment Minister Stephane Dion said. "It is always difficult for Canada to go alone."
Dion is part of a delegation of Canadian officials, including the country's minister of transportation, that is touring California. The delegation is scheduled to meet with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today to learn more about the state's pioneering greenhouse gas law.
The law, passed last year, requires automakers to reduce tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases nearly 30% by 2016. It is strongly opposed by automakers, who have filed state and federal lawsuits to block it.
The Canadian officials said their government would prefer to follow the example of the European Union, which entered into a voluntary agreement with automakers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But if such a deal cannot be struck, Canada is prepared to go forward with a California-style regulation, the officials said. Canadian officials plan to discuss the issue with representatives of the carmakers later this month.
"At the end of the day, we want results," Transportation Minister Jean Lapierre said in an interview in Los Angeles on Monday. "We could go more directly into regulations. But we would rather have a voluntary agreement."
In addition to learning about the state's global warming regulation, Canadian officials wanted to see how California was addressing its long-standing problems with air pollution, traffic gridlock and urban sprawl. They also wanted to discuss Schwarzenegger's hydrogen power initiatives.
On Monday, the Canadians were in the Los Angeles area, where they met with business leaders and toured the Diamond Bar headquarters of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the region's main smog-fighting agency. Afterward, they toured the Port of Los Angeles and went to Santa Monica to visit the offices of the Rand Corp. think tank and the environmental group the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Several Northeastern states have indicated that they plan to copy California's tailpipe rule, expressing frustration with what they see as a lack of action by the Bush administration to address climate change.
If Canada also follows California, economies of scale may force automakers to make the technology needed to meet the requirements -- mainly variable-speed transmissions and other fuel-economy boosters -- mandatory in all cars. That is what eventually happened with another California innovation to reduce car emissions, the catalytic converter, environmentalists say.
"The prospect of Canada adopting the California approach scares the automakers to death," said Roland Hwang, a car pollution expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "With the Canadians on board, we'd reach the tipping point."
Auto manufacturers worry that the end result would be a patchwork of different carbon dioxide standards throughout the states -- and perhaps other parts of North America, if Canada moves forward with its own rule. That would make it more costly for them to make cars and trucks for the different markets, they argue.
"When Canadian officials look closely at this regulation, they'll see increased costs to consumers, loss of jobs, with no benefits in air quality or climate," said Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the industry group that has sued California.