The director of the National Council of Churches’ “eco-justice” programs was among the onlookers when Barack Obama signed his executive order on auto emission and gas mileage standards. As usual, her response was hyperbolic rather than realistic, attributing almost mythical efficacy to an order that is unlikely to do anything other than further hobble the auto industry. According to NCC News:

Cassandra Carmichael was present in the East Room as the President directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to grant state waiver requests to strengthen tailpipe emissions standards. The new guidelines cover 2011 model-year cars.

“The President’s executive orders can help us pave the way for a energy future that is sustainable not only for God’s planet, but for God’s people,” said Carmichael.

“By allowing states to have stronger emission standards and mandating that cars be more fuel efficient, we can not only protect human health from air pollution but also help reduce global warming, which threatens both the planet and people.”

Not really. With regard to fuel efficiency standards, the executive order was unnecessary–it simply calls for follow though on standards that had already been passed as part of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. And there’s reason to think that even that isn’t all that great an idea; according to the Congressional Budget Office, “given current estimates of the value of decreasing dependence on oil and reducing carbon emissions, increasing CAFE standards would not pass a benefit-cost test.”

As for the emission standard order, that is more problematic. There’s no question that putting new regulatory requirements on the auto manufacturers at the same time that the government is putting out billions to bail them out makes little economic sense. From the regulatory standpoint, giving California this waiver essentially puts all American environmental policy in this area in the hands of one state’s bureaucrats, given the size of the market and its subsequent influence on Detroit decision-making.

But what’s really sad about Carmichael’s enthusiasm for this order is that it will have little if any actual impact on the climate, since it will effect only new cars in the United States, which means a very small portion of the world’s carbon output. Some numbers: total atmospheric CO2 amounts to about 780 billion tons. Annual U.S. auto CO2 emissions amount to about 315 million tons (meaning U.S. cars contribute less than 0.5% to a system that involves the exhange of the gas between oceans, vegetation, and marine lifeforms in amounts of almost 250 billion tons a year). That is to say that American autos contribute a tiny fraction of the CO2 that is at play in the entire ecosystem. Take that, and realize that California isn’t trying to eliminate CO2 emissions, just reduce them by some percent, and would only be able to do so in increments in the years ahead. Anyway you slice it, we’re talking about relatively very small amounts, and for that, which is unlikely to have any impact on global climate at all, we’re talking about making it harder for the auto industry to make it through some extremely tough times.

Carmichael’s goals–cleaner air, better use of available energy resources, climate stability are laudable (though the last is thoroughly utopian). But if she thinks that steps like these are going to make a difference, she needs to get her tire pressure checked.

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