News Column

California Passes Landmark Rules To Curb Auto Emissions

Jan. 27, 2012

Paul Rogers

Gasoline Container

Reshaping the next decade of America's auto industry, the California Air Resources Board on Friday approved historic new rules that require 15 percent of new cars sold in California by 2025 run on electricity, hydrogen or other systems producing little or no smog.

The board, meeting in Los Angeles, voted 11-0 to approve the package of "advanced clean car rules."

The rules also require automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent on all new vehicles by 2025 and tailpipe emissions of soot and smog by roughly 75 percent over the same time period. The greenhouse rules are nearly identical to new national rules being developed by the Obama Administration, and will result in new cars averaging 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, double today's fleet average for new cars.

"If you talk to anybody, they wish they could drive more efficient cars with less pollution," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, a member of the air board.

"People are spending way too much for gas, and they wish they didn't have to spend as much," he said. "The fact we are going to change what consumers can buy and what they can drive -- which is really what they want -- is one of the most important things we are doing."

Despite the dramatic changes for gasoline and diesel vehicles, the provisions that gained the most widespread attention will force every major automaker, starting in 2018, to increase in showrooms the number of electric vehicles,

like the Nissan Leaf, and plug-in hybrid vehicles, like the Chevrolet Volt, that they offer for sale, along with some hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The effect would be that 1.4 million such vehicles would be sold by 2025 if the rules are successful. Today there are only about 10,000 such vehicles in the state.

The air board, established in 1967 by Gov. Ronald Reagan, has for more than 40 years set first-in-the-nation standards to reduce pollution from cars. Its 11 members, appointed by the governor, over the years have made California the first state to ban leaded gasoline, to require catalytic converters and smog checks, and to require reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Unlike in many past years, the auto industry did not oppose the rules. Representatives from GM, Ford, Toyota, Tesla and other companies said that they supported the rules because they mirror federal rules, and because they are making the cars already, with roughly 40 electric and plug-in models due out in the next three years.

Mark Perry, Nissan's North American director of advanced technology, noted his company already has sold 22,000 all electric Nissan Leafs worldwide since introducing the vehicle last year. He noted that there is a three-month wait to buy the cars, but said Nissan is expanding a factory in Tennessee to build up to 150,000 Leafs a year.

"This is a mass market launch for us and we are moving to mass market adoption," he said.

One auto industry group, the California New Car Dealers Association, said it opposed the rules. It sought unsuccessfully to get the board to give credit to regular hybrid vehicles, such as Toyota Priuses, toward the electric vehicle requirement.

"Consumers do not make purchasing decisions based on regulatory mandates," said Jonathan Morrison, the associations director of regulatory affairs.

The air board noted that it will revisit the rule in the coming years, and can change it based on how the market develops. But its staff members pointed to a study showing the while the rules would add $1,900 to the price of an average vehicle by 2025, they would save $5,900 in gasoline costs over the life of the vehicle.

Also, countries in Europe, Japan and other areas already are requiring sharp increases in gas mileage and more alternative vehicles to address global warming and pollution concerns, so auto makers are moving toward the standards, air board officials said.

"The world is heading in the direction of getting off petroleum, and they want to sell cars," said board chairman Mary Nichols.

Paul Rogers covers resources and environmental issues. Contact him at 408-920-5045.


(c)2012 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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Source: (c)2012 the San Jose Mercury News

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