On Emissions Limits, California Goes its Own Way
Earlier this year, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) completely revamped its passenger vehicle emissions control regulations. The new Advanced Clean Cars program, which covers model years 2017—2025, combines several regulatory schemes into the new program: the Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) program, which governs tailpipe regulations for light duty vehicles; the Clean Fuels Outlet regulation, a largely dormant effort to promote alternative fuel availability; and the most famous, or infamous, component, the ZEV mandate requiring automakers to produce vehicles with no tailpipe emissions.
California already has a reputation for marching to a different drummer, and this new program confirms that stereotype.
First, while it is now practically verboten to talk about carbon reduction at the national levels of U.S. government, California is openly embracing the idea.Previously, the LEV and ZEV programs only addressed criteria pollutants. The Advanced Clean Cars program expands the regulations to cover greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions.By 2025, under the new regulations, passenger cars' CO2 emissions will drop 34 percent from that of 2016 models. The program is intended to help reduce GHG emissions in the state to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.In its scope and ambition, the new program resembles the carbon reduction goals and strategies being enacted in Europe more than anything happening elsewhere in the United States right now.
Second, the ZEV mandate remains a top-down, "technology forcing" regulation, contra a general preference for policies that simply allow new technologies to flourish.While opponents of the ZEV mandate have painted it as an inflexible government "stick," the Air Resources Board has always been open to modifying the mandate in response to changes in the technology landscape. This flexibility helps explain the mandate’s remarkable resilience.Consider that it was enacted in 1990, when the Soviet Union was intact, Tim Berners-Lee had just proposed something called the World Wide Web, and the Toyota Prius was just a gleam in an engineer's eye.
The Air Resources Board has reconfigured the mandate to support the state's 2050 GHG emissions target. CARB claims that the only way to meet the target is if ZEVs make up around 87 percent of the passenger vehicle fleet in California by 2050.
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