A more meager mandate

The California Air Resources Board is once again considering rules that would further water down the state’s mandate for zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs).

In September, the board bucked pressure from automakers and reaffirmed the ZEV mandate, saying it was essential to future air quality in the state. In doing so, it upheld the requirement that, by 2003, 4 percent of all vehicles sold in the state produce no harmful emissions. Under the rule, another 6 percent must use technology that sharply reduces air pollution.

But Dec. 8, staff presented recommendations that would sharply scale back the state’s commitment to zero-emission vehicles.

The new plan calls for a reduction in the number of battery-powered cars required in 2003, from 22,000 to between 4,300 and 9,400, depending on the technology used.

“It would essentially end the ZEV program as we know it,” said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, spokesperson for the American Lung Association of California.

Public health and environmental organizations are hoping that the board will have the fortitude to stay the course, or possibly even strengthen the current program, and not give in to automaker pressure this time around.

The automakers, for their part, have maintained that the current rules are too stringent, that consumers aren’t interested in battery-powered vehicles because they are too expensive and have a limited range.

But ZEV advocates say that car companies are going out of their way to suppress the market for electric vehicles by barely producing enough cars to meet the state rules and by waging what amounts to a smear campaign against their own product. They say that any watering down of the mandate would hurt the market for battery-powered cars, as well as a potential future market for fuel-cell powered vehicles.

“Clearly, the automakers just don’t want to produce any zero-emission vehicles,” said Holmes-Gen.

The board will consider the new amendments in a public meeting at 9 a.m on Jan. 25. The meeting will be held in the SMUD Headquarters Building at 6201 S St.