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California Poised to Vote on New 'Clean Car' Regulations

posted on January 27, 2012


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The head of California's air quality board

on Thursday called proposed rules that would require automakers to

build less-polluting cars and trucks by 2025 a historic move for a

cleaner environment.

     California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols said she

hopes the rules to require that vehicles emit about 75 percent less

smog-producing pollutants will "lead the nation and the world."

     The new standards, which also include big cuts in greenhouse gas

pollutants, would begin with new cars sold in 2015, and get

increasingly more stringent until 2025.

     "We can't afford to wait. We have to act on these issues now,"

she said at the panel's meeting. "Our projections show continued

growth in population and vehicle miles traveled, which will affect

air quality for years to come."

     The state's smog emissions standards are often more strict than

federal ones, which means other states often adopt them as their

own.

     Fourteen other states, including Washington, New Jersey, New

York and Massachusetts, have adopted California's current emissions

goals, which is why the new regulations could have a wide-ranging

effect.

     Of those states, 10 also adopted the zero-emission vehicle

standards as well.

     The new package of regulations, which could be voted on as early

as Thursday, would also require that one in every seven new cars

sold in the state in 2025 be a zero emission or plug-in hybrid

vehicle.

     The new rules will continue the state's first-in-the-nation

greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and trucks, which went

into effect in 2009. This time, the greenhouse gas reduction

element was designed with federal regulators so that it will match

national standards expected to be passed later this year.

     "When we did the first greenhouse gas standards, it was war,"

said Tom Cackette, deputy director of the board, referring to legal

challenges from auto dealers and business groups after the state

passed the initial greenhouse gas emissions limits.

     "They sued us in two federal courts. Fortunately, from our

viewpoint, they lost. Over that time, with the increase in gas

prices, the shake-up in the auto industry brought new management

which looked at the future. Where's our future? It's not profits

next quarter but how do we make a sustainable business."

     In addition to new smog and greenhouse gas emissions limits, the

regulations being voted on also includes a new zero-emissions

vehicle mandate. The goal is to have 1.4 million zero-emission and

plug-in hybrids on California roads by 2025. But the program also

looks ahead to 2050, laying groundwork for a goal of having 87

percent of the state's fleet of new vehicles fueled by electricity,

hydrogen fuel cells or other clean technologies.

     "This regulation is planned over a 40-year horizon, and that is

extremely unusual," said board spokesman David Clegern. "But it

gives us time to put the pieces in place with no surprises. The

individual companies can plan for changes and develop the

technology, and over the long haul, it will shift us away from

reliance on petroleum."

     The board's meeting comes just three days after federal

regulators met in San Francisco to hear public comment on the Obama

administration's national fuel economy standards, the most

far-reaching in history. If passed later this year, they would

require the average passenger car to reach a 54.5-mph standard by

2025.

     The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 13 automakers, CARB

and others worked together so that when the federal government

passes its greenhouse gas emissions limits later this year, they

will match California's and create one national standard.

     Some automakers said the market for clean car technology is

already spurring the technology and innovation the regulations seek

to influence.

     "Yes, the cars will be lighter, compact, far more fuel

efficient. That's what the mandate will be. It's not enforced by

the government but really by the economics of the future," said

Michael Dobrin, a spokesman for Toyota.

     Yet some auto dealers have argued that the government's emphasis

on strict pollution controls will result in much higher prices for

consumers.

     Forrest McConnell, director of the National Automobile Dealers

Association, testified during the federal hearing Tuesday that

tightening fuel efficiency standards will result in unaffordable

cars.

     "We all want better fuel economy, but it is not free. By adding

$3,200, if not more, to the average cost of a car, over seven

million Americans will be priced out of the market, fleet turnover

will be reduced, and public policy benefits will be delayed,"

McConnell said.

     Other dealers say consumer demand for electric and hybrid

vehicles is not what the board hopes it is.

     The California New Car Dealers Association says hybrid vehicles,

which have been marketed and sold for 13 years, only make up 2.1

percent of the national market, and 4.1 percent of California's

market. They say the goal of making one of every seven new cars

sold in California a zero-emission vehicle in roughly the same

amount of time is unrealistic.

     "Rather than setting vehicle manufacturers, new car dealers,

and alternative vehicles themselves up for another predictable

failure, (the board) should adjust the mandate to reflect a goal

that is realistic and attainable," said Jonathan Morrison, the

state dealers' association's director of legal and regulatory

affairs.

     The air board's research and environmental advocates dispute

those cost increase estimates, and say increases in hybrid and

other sales continue to rise as more cars hit the market. They

argue that fuel cost savings will make up for any vehicle price

increase.

     "Our research shows a $1,400 to $1,900 car price increase, but

over the life of the vehicles, the owners save $6,000 in reduced

fuel and maintenance costs," said Clegern.


Tags: air quality automakers California regulations