California Forges Ahead With Aggressive Clean Car Standards For 2015-2025

The California Air Resource Board, or CARB, has a checkered history within the Golden State, passing some very progressive policies that ultimately proved either too ambitious or poorly enacted. We have CARB to thank for GM’s EV1, as well as the subsequent failure of first-generation electric vehicles. Last week CARB voted to enact increasingly tough emissions standards for vehicles sold in the state that even outpaces the aggressive standards set by President Obama.On Friday CARB voted unanimously in favor of the Advanced Clean Cars act, which has been in the works for three years and comprises of three main packages of regulations; LEV III, modified ZEV, and CFO, or Clean Fuels Outlet.

LEV III combines soot, smog, and greenhouse gas control regulations into one standard for 2017 through 2025. By 2025, CARB expects that all light-duty passenger vehicles, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles to meet today’s Super Ultra Low-Emissions Vehicle standards. Pie in the sky, much?

Much like its ill-fated plan to force automakers to build and sell battery-electric vehicles in the 90’s, CARB is including a regulation in the ZEV package that forces automakers to sell a minimum of 15% battery-electric vehicles by 2025. Talk about forcing the market into a corner, this regulation essentially dictates what automakers have to build in the coming decade, leaving little room for other promising technologies or alternatives. The only saving grace is that automakers who over-comply with the greenhouse gas standards presented in the LEV III regulations will recieve credits towards their electric vehicle mandates.

So much for the goal of getting more EV’s on the road. It will be much easier for many automakers to simply make clean gas-powered cars than to invest in battery-electric vehicles.

Finally, there is the CFO regulations package, which basically says that once automakers reach a certain threshold for other clean alternative fuels (like hydrogen fuel-cells), the construction of alt-fuel outlets (i.e. filling stations) must take place. This part of the amendment seems especially half-assed as it relies on automakers on projections with thresholds set at 10,000 cars locally, and 20,000 cars statewide. But why even bother with any other alt-fuel when California is demanding such a high percentage of new vehicle sales be battery electric?

What happens if gasoline gets cheap again? Like, really cheap? Nobody is going to want an EV then, but automakers will still have to build them according to CARB’s rules.Some environmentalists may cheer on California’s aggressive emissions-reduction technology, but in reality you’ve got one state trying to steer the direction of an entire industry. I like EV’s, but they won’t work everywhere, and the auto industry is still digging itself out of a deep hole.

Now is not the time to be setting separate standards once again; automakers will have a hard enough time reaching the 54.5 mpg CAFE standard set for 2025. Let’s not corral them into a single alternative (electric vehicles) and discard advancements in other potentially promising alternatives to oil.

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.