Deep Reform, Not Window Dressing, for a Cooler, Cleaner California

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) wants car companies to install metallic reflective windows, which regulators believe will reduce energy use and fight global warming. Though possibly well intentioned this plan amounts only to window dressing. Legislators should pursue deeper environmental reforms with more benefits and fewer disadvantages.

CARB believes metallic reflective windows will reduce vehicles’ interior temperature and reduce greenhouse gases by making air conditioners work less, thus using less gasoline. Sounds good but the mandate could force Chrysler to stop selling its new GEM electric vehicle – which doesn’t even have air conditioning. Honda said the new requirement “is simply not feasible” on the current timetable, beginning in 2012.

Toyota has already tried similar reflective class but had to drop it because it created problems with radios, GPS systems and cell phones. The CARB mandate could also cause problems with garage door openers, the state’s FasTrak toll system, and even parolee ankle bracelets. It would also make vehicles, and vehicle repair, more expensive.

CARB believes that environmental gains would offset the costs but the window plan seems like a bad idea on all counts, especially in a state that is struggling economically, with an unemployment rate fourth-highest in the country. It would lower energy demands and reduce emissions – supposedly the goal of CARB – if more Californians lived where they seldom or never need air conditioning in their cars and homes. That would be near the 840-mile coast, but here Californians face an obstacle.

The California Coastal Commission (CCC) does everything in its considerable power to prevent Californians from living near the coast. The unelected CCC also deploys its clout to prevent those already living near the coast from developing their property. The CCC is “the most formidable player of all” in land-use decisions, according to the New York Times, and on land use overrides the elected governments of all California counties on the coast.

As Index of Leading Environmental Indicators author Steven Hayward notes, the CCC combines Stalinist regulation with Mafia-style corruption. It sought to grab land in exchange for permits, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled was extortion. Commissioner Mark Nathanson sought to shake down coastal residents for bribes in exchange for permits. In 1993 Nathanson was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for racketeering, seeking bribes, and filing a false tax return during his stint as a commissioner. This is perhaps the only CCC case where justice was done.

CCC executive director Peter Douglas co-authored Proposition 20 which established the Commission in 1972. Conveniently enough, he also authored the 1976 legislation that made the CCC permanent. Douglas has blasted the courts for upholding property rights and argued that the United States Constitution should be changed to reflect more closely the constitution of India.

That is why the CCC, hostile to property rights, has harassed property owners and made development in its domains virtually impossible. That affects the supply of homes near the coast and keeps their costs prohibitive. With such obstacles, most California housing development takes place in hot inland areas, where air conditioning gets heavy use in cars and houses alike, and drives up energy demands.

CARB’s window dressing plan, meanwhile, will make cars more costly with negligible environmental benefits. On the other hand, the state would be a cooler place in many ways without a commissariat of regulatory zealots opposed to Californians’ most basic rights. Eliminating the CCC would help Californians to live where energy demands are lower. Eliminating the CCC would also promote democracy, lower the cost of government, and reduce conflict and corruption.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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