A New Front in the Fuel Fight

Boosting efficiency is no longer a question of whether but how.

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A taxi driver fills up his cab with compressed natural gas.

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California can set more stringent standards than the federal government—as long as it gets a "waiver" from the Environmental Protection Agency. The Bush administration has promised a decision by the year's end. No such waiver has ever been denied, and under the more than 50 approved, California has led the nation in catalytic converters, unleaded gasoline, and other advances.

So far, 16 other states have adopted or are moving to adopt California's greenhouse gas standard. They include "a nice color mix of red and blue states, and together they make up 45 percent of the new car fleet," says David Doniger, head of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate program. "This could become the de facto standard that governs the whole country."

Automakers last week lost their second federal court challenge to California. Schwarzenegger has taken the Bush administration to court for unreasonable delay on the waiver decision and has vowed to "sue again and sue again" until California wins. Add that Terminator-like determination to $3-per-gallon gasoline and national security worries about oil, and it's a safe bet that cars and SUVs with better gas mileage will be coming soon to a showroom near you.