WASHINGTON, DC - March 25 - The staff of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has submitted a proposal that would significantly weaken the state's Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program. If adopted by the board, this plan would make it more difficult for California to meet its goal of cutting global warming pollution 80 percent by 2050, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). CARB could make its decision as early as this Thursday. The agency last modified the program in 2003.
"The staff proposal would jeopardize California's long term efforts to address global warming and delay critical investments in hydrogen infrastructure, fuel cells and the battery industry," said UCS Senior Vehicles Analyst Spencer Quong. "Conventional technologies can get us part of the way there, but California needs game-changing technology that dramatically reduces pollution over the long haul."
CARB staff recently released a report proposing several changes to the ZEV program. The report calls for 90 percent fewer "pure" zero emission vehicles, such as hydrogen fuel cell or battery electric vehicles, than what the ZEV program currently requires. That would dramatically reduce the number of such vehicles on California's roads from 25,000 to 2,500 between 2012 and 2014. The CARB report says the state could make up for that reduction with 75,000 more "enhanced advanced-technology, partial-zero-emission vehicles," such as hydrogen internal combustion vehicles and plug-in hybrids.
"California should open the door wide for plug-in hybrids," Quong said. "But if the ZEV program is going to get the job done, it still needs to pave the way for millions of battery electric and fuel cell vehicles on the road."
A new UCS analysis concludes that California would need to have 379,000 "pure" zero emission vehicles on the road in 12 years to be on a path to meet the state's long-term global warming pollution reduction target. Additionally, deploying that many zero emission vehicles would be consistent with the California's State Alternative Fuel Plan 2050 Vision, which was crafted by CARB and the California Energy Commission to reduce global warming emissions from the state's transportation sector. Currently there are approximately 31 million cars on California roads.
"The ZEV program needs to keep up with the times," Quong said. "Since the state created it, California passed a landmark global warming law and is developing regulations and policies to clean up its entire transportation sector. The ZEV program should be an integral part of the cleanup plan."
Automakers comply with the ZEV program through a complicated system which allows them to earn credits for vehicles that do not contribute to the program's overall goal, which is to put more zero emission vehicles on the road, Quong said. In 2001, CARB changed the ZEV regulations to permit the auto companies to meet their requirements through three new vehicle categories: "gold" pure zero emission vehicles, "silver" advanced technology hybrids, and "bronze" conventional gasoline cars with tailpipe emissions that are equivalent to pollution from a battery-powered electric car. The vast majority of vehicles in the ZEV program earn "bronze" credits rather than "gold." Furthermore, the public cannot keep automakers accountable because auto companies refuse to let CARB release information documenting their compliance with the ZEV program.
"The way the ZEV program is set up, automakers can game the system instead of delivering on their promises at auto shows to move electric and fuel-cell prototypes to showroom floors," Quong said. "CARB should reform the ZEV program so that it puts ultra-clean technology to work in meeting California's long term environmental goals."