Late last week, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) held the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) board meeting previewed in Killing the Electric Car Again Part 1 and Part 2. CARB appears to have put on a partially choreographed show.
Agency staff played the role of “bad cop.” Before the meeting they proposed cutting ZEVs by 90%, setting the scene for the Board appointees to play “good cop” and change the cuts to 70%. This allowed CARB to spin it as a tripling in the numbers in their press release:
The Air Resources Board today voted to triple the amount of zero emissions vehicles that staff had proposed for automakers to produce from 2012 through 2014, while directing staff to look at overhauling the program to account for climate
If FCVs with 300-mile range are used, then the cut is actually 79%; only 0.08% of new vehicles would have to be ZEVs.
Some of the board members insisted on playing the role of “bumble cop”, as they seemed to have little understanding of exactly what they were voting on. Even board members who had initially stated they thought the numbers should be increased, not decreased, seemed suddenly to forget those remarks and docilely follow the lead of board member Dr. Daniel Sperling, who near the end flashed up a slide filled with a table of numbers (presumably prepared in advance), and suggested that the board go with only 2,500 (1,785 if 300-mile range) FCVs a year. The board followed 7-0.
During the meeting, over fifty speakers took 3-minute slots explaining to the board why CARB should not retreat on its 8,333 per year mandate for 2012-14 (approximately 0.4% of California vehicle sales). The other dozen or so speakers primarily represented automakers and other interests requesting changes peculiar to their particular situations (issues such as the transition from intermediate to high volume manufacturer status, hydrogen internal combustion engines, and so on).
Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey testified at the CARB meeting on the wastefulness of diverting resources to hydrogen fuel-cell programs and the need to get plug-in cars on the road soon in order to reduce U.S. dependence on oil and to increase national security. Former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Deputy Under Secretary of Education Peter R. Greer, both of whom served under President Ronald Reagan, wrote to Gov. Schwarzenegger imploring him to help get more electric vehicles on the market.
In a bit of drama, former CARB chairman Dr. Robert Sawyer testified in front of the board he once directed, calling for a stronger ZEV program. Dr. Sawyer was appointed to the board by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2005, but then fired by the Governor in 2007. Dr. Sawyer’s firing led to the resignation in protest of CARB Executive Director Catherine Witherspoon. She accused the governor’s aides of blocking efforts to fight global warming, saying “I believe the governor cares deeply about air quality, but no one in his inner circle does.” Dr. Sawyer was replaced by Mary Nichols, who yesterday helped lead the board’s retreat on ZEVs. Governor Schwarzenegger now has the dubious honor of joining Governor Davis in delaying the technology we need to control vehicle emissions.
The ZEV program continues to be a hydrogen fuel cell research program, and not a program to create clean air vehicles. Board Chair Mary Nichols called at the outset of the meeting to not tilt toward one technology, and most of the comments submitted before and during the meeting called for CARB to implement a level playing field between all types of ZEVs–Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs)–but it was not to be. In the end, Chair Nichols and her board simply ignored the issue she had raised and did nothing to provide balance. In fact, Dr. Sperling’s last minute change increased the credits given to long-range FCVs from 5 to 7, compared the program’s maximum BEV credit of 3; CARB remains highly tilted toward hydrogen. Automakers will get the same number of credits from 5,357 FCVs as 12,500 BEVs over three years. These low volumes guarentee that automakers will be able to say that the program is not economic.
If there were any bright notes, they were the vote for transparency in ZEV credits, and that the plug-in hybrids that manufacturers have been talking about recently are now required. However, it is likely that these PHEVs represent vehicles that would have been produced anyway, i.e. CARB seems to be following the market here rather than leading it. The board’s action had the effect of requiring slightly less (19,500 per year) PHEVs than the staff proposal, as they ignored a suggestion from board member Dorene D’Adamo to hold this value constant while reducing staff’s ZEV cuts.
The Board also passed a resolution directing CARB staff to overhaul the ZEV program, which has become a Rube Goldberg contraption in its complexity, with Bronze, Silver, Silver+, and Gold credits for Type o, I, I.5, II, III, and IV ZEVs, PZEVs (cleaner internal combustion engines), AT PZEVs (really hybrids), and Enhanced AT PZEVs (really plug-in hybrids), with carry back and carry forward provisions, and so on. This overhaul is long overdue. However, the board gave staff until December 2009 to create a proposal, which will then have to be reviewed, amended, and approved, and from then it will be many years before the new program can call for any real changes in automakers’ production plans. CARB says the new program is to be ready by 2015, but the new program will not be able to change 2015 volumes, given automaker production schedules.
Chris Paine, director of Who Killed the Electric Car?, was at the CARB meeting, filming, perhaps for a second documentary.
— Earl Killian