California to Vote on New ‘Clean Car’ Regulations

By | January 27, 2012

California, whose greenhouse gas emissions standards lead the U.S., is poised to vote on pushing them further.

The new rules, if approved, would require automakers to build cars and trucks by 2025 that emit about three-quarters fewer smog-producing pollutants and mandate that one of every seven new cars sold in the state be a zero-emission or plug-in hybrid vehicle.

The California Air Resources Board began hearing testimony this week on its “Advanced Clean Car” program.

California’s smog emissions standards are often more strict than U.S. ones, which means other states often adopt them as their own.

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 and 13 automakers so 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 air resources board, referring to legal challenges from auto dealers and business groups. “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.”

Fourteen other states, including Washington, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts, have adopted California’s current emissions goals. Of those states, 10 have also adopted the zero-emission vehicle standards as well.

California’s new emissions 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. Generally, the regulations would require a 75 percent reduction in smog emissions in new cars by 2025, and a 34 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over roughly the same time.

The regulations being voted on also include 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. 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 (87.7-kph) standard by 2025.

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.

But Forrest McConnell, director of the National Automobile Dealers Association, testified during Tuesday’s hearing 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.

The air board’s research and environmental advocates argue that fuel cost savings will make up for any vehicle price increase.

Topics California Legislation Auto

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