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Since each gallon of gas that is burned puts over 19 lbs of carbon dioxide out into the air, experts say the number one way to reduce carbon emissions from motor vehicles is to take steps to improve gas mileage. But there's a Catch-22 for U.S. states that want to do something: Federal law basically ties states' hands in tackling the problem by preventing states from directly regulating gas mileage.

In addition to preventing direct state regulation of gas mileage, federal law also limits state regulation of the related issue of tailpipe emissions. Under federal Clean Air law, states have only two auto emissions regulatory options: They can adopt basic federal automobile tailpipe emissions standards; or they can adopt the "clean car" program developed in California, which is given special authority by federal law to set a higher emissions standard.

Southerners have more to gain financially from improved gas mileage under the California Clean Car program than the states that have already adopted it. That's because Southerners drive more than the national average, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data. Because they drive more - and spend more on gas - Southerners will save more money if their cars get better gas mileage.


Recommendation 8: Each Southern state should adopt the Clean Car program to fight global warming, save money and reduce air toxics.

Talking points

  • With one-third of global warming emissions in the United States due to what comes out of cars and trucks, it's common sense to try to cut some of these emissions.

  • But U.S. states are prevented by federal law from regulating gas mileage. The only real alternative they can adopt is the "clean car" program developed in California.

  • The program allows states to set higher emissions standards, which cut down on greenhouse gases. So far, 11 other states have adopted.

  • The Clean Car program saves money, improves health and helps reduce toxic air emissions. Enough gasoline is saved in the first 11 states that adopted the Clean Car program as is used in a whole year in the state of Florida.

  • While local governments can't directly impact emissions standards, they can show leadership by buying hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles that lower global warming emissions.

As this chart from Chapter 4 highlights, Southerners in every state but Louisiana drive more average miles per capita than the U.S. average.

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