By on January 20, 2010

Doh! (

The Detroit Free Press reports that a recent filing by the California Air Resources Board [Full filing in PDF format here] threatens that a rapid ramp-up to the proposed 35.5 mpg 2016 standard and a reduction in zero-emission vehicle credits are necessary “to ensure California’s continued support.” CARB spokesman Stanley Young explains that “what we wanted to do is convey the level of importance for these two issues,” and that it’s “too early” to say whether California will withdraw from its compromise with the Obama administration. Still, the threat of a California withdrawal should be enough to get some attention in Washington, as Obama adviser David Axelrod has called the emissions compromise one of the administration’s top accomplishments of 2009.

CARB’s first complaint is that, though Obama promised to harmonize national emissions standards with California for 2016, the current proposed rule allows for more leeway in the 2011-2015 model-years.

While the proposed national passenger motor vehicle greenhouse gas standards are of equal stringency to the Pavley [California] regulations in the 2016 model year, they are less stringent than the Pavley standards in the 2011 through 2015 model years.  Consequently, allowing manufacturers to comply with the Pavley regulations in the 2012 through 2015 model years by demonstrating compliance with the national regulations in these model years will result in slightly less reduction in greenhouse gas reductions within California and the individual states that have adopted California’s program.  However, staff believes that nationwide, greenhouse gas emission reductions from the proposed national GHG program – assuming California’s comments on the proposed rulemaking are affirmatively addressed – will be greater than if the Pavley program were implemented without the national GHG program. This occurs because although the proposed national standards are less stringent than California’s in model years 2012 through 2015, the national standards apply to more than twice as many vehicles than are subject to the Pavley regulations.

Though the CARB’s zeal is impressive, messing with the ramp-up to an agreed-upon 2016 standard is overreaching for relatively marginal gains… at a considerably higher cost to the auto manufacturers. If this were the only issue, CARB might well have stayed silent and sucked up the slower ramp-up as part of the cost of compromise. The second issue, however, is far more real.

The CARB filing notes:

EPA believes that electric vehicles (EVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) have the potential to reduce greenhouse gases more significantly than any commercially-available technologies, and ARB fully agrees with this.  EPA is, therefore, proposing that additional credits be given to these advanced technologies in the 2012 through 2016 model years, in order to encourage their development.

These advanced technology credits would take the form of multipliers in the range of 1.2 to 2.0, allowing an EV, PHEV, or FCV to count as more than one vehicle during the calculation of a manufacturer’s fleet average CO2 level to determine compliance with the applicable footprint-based standard.  These multipliers would not be applied when calculating the actual footprint-based
CO2 standard to which a manufacturer must comply.  (Footprint is determined by multiplying the vehicle’s wheelbase by the vehicle’s average track width.  The greenhouse gas standards being proposed by EPA are expressed as mathematical functions that depend on vehicle footprint.)

In addition, EPA is proposing to assign a value of zero grams per mile of CO2 for EVs and for the electric portion of PHEV operation, when including these vehicles in a manufacturer’s average.   EPA acknowledges that there are =upstream CO2 emissions from electricity generation, which are produced during EV and PHEV charging.  Similarly there are upstream emissions from hydrogen production for FCVs.  However, EPA feels that the significant greenhouse gas emission reductions that may be achieved from this technology outweighs the dis-benefits of ignoring these emissions within this  timeframe.

Staff agrees with EPA’s goal of encouraging the early development and production of advanced technology vehicles.  However, staff believes that the approach proposed by EPA could allow manufacturers to earn unreasonably high numbers of credits, thereby potentially reducing the overall GHG reductions achieved by the national program and delaying the implementation of improved greenhouse gas technologies on conventional vehicles.

Consequently, staff believes that EPA’s Final Rule must strike a better balance between advanced vehicle development and protecting greenhouse gas reductions by assigning average lifecycle emissions to these vehicles, and restricting credits to EVs and FCVs only.

Having looked into the credit multiplier loophole, we agree wholeheartedly that it’s rife for abuse, especially in respect to Flex Fuel (ethanol) Vehicle credits. On the whole, the “super credit” program incentivizes automakers to build zero- and low-emissions vehicles without regard for marketability, to make up for a fleet that could be otherwise way out of compliance. Under this system the environment and consumers lose out equally.

Still, California is walking on thin ice. Politically, the Obama administration can’t afford to see one of its few major accomplishments of the last year fall apart. But then it can’t afford to burden the auto industry it now owns a stake in with CARB-approved toughness either. Meanwhile, other states are weighing in with concerns about implementing the new GHG emissions standards. Hell, California’s own Energy Commission is asking the EPA to delay the implementation of GHG standards entirely. This is why they call politics the art of the compromise.

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20 Comments on “California Threatens To Move Fuel Economy Goalposts. Again....”

  • avatar

    Someone kindly inform Mr. Young that new car models and powertrains aren’t developed on one-year timelines. A “rapid ramp-up” is meaningless if automakers can’t keep up on the development side. 2016 models are already in the pipeline. Coming up with a new standard every year like this is ludicrous, especially considering that as the state with the largest tax base, California has the largest share of America’s stake in GM and Chrysler. Sabotaging its  investment when the state is billions in the red itself seems silly.

    • 0 avatar

      I have never understood these sudden (large) changes in fuel economy requirements.  When you are reaching the point of diminishing returns, changes are obtained in small increments (at large cost).  By the way, fuel economy numbers aren’t just numbers to be fooled around with in a spreadsheet or bureaucratic regulation – there’s fundamental science at work here (energy contained in the fuel and efficiency of the engine used to covert the fuel into motion).  I would prefer to see a well  publicized progression of fuel economy standards years in advance. Like, 30mpg in 2013, 31mpg in 2014, 32mpg in 2015, 33mpg in 2016, etc.  Then some planning and engineering can be done  effectively.

  • avatar

    If Governor Schwarzenegger needs any ideas on how to cut the massive California budget deficit, I have a suggestion on where to start…

  • avatar
    Telegraph Road

    Slightly-used off-lease vehicles are good substitutes for new vehicles in the market.  Since the proposed costly CARB rules would only apply to new vehicles, what’s to prevent manufacturers from skirting the regulations by selling large numbers of slightly-used 1-yr old off-lease gas guzzlers in California?  I envision a lot of 1-yr leases of new gas guzzlers in neighboring states, with off-lease used vehicles to supply the California market.  CARB is insane.  Just tax gasoline.

  • avatar

    +1 to EEGeek
    California is flat broke. So broke it writes IOUs for income tax refunds. Maybe they wouldn’t be so broke if they didn’t pay for idiotic BS such as this.

  • avatar

    These CARB f’ers need to just make the limits 100mpg to get all the evil cars off the roads, and then maybe the CA masses would be pissed off enough with these pricks to disband CARB forever.

  • avatar

    I see one benefit:  Increasing the mandatory fuel efficiency to 35.5 mpg will make the new 2011-2015 domestic  cars qualify to be purchased by consumers in Japan under their Yen for Clunkers program, greatly increasing exports to Japan and saving the domestic auto industry financially! Hurrah for CARB! They’re saving our jobs!

  • avatar

    I don’t think the flex fuel argument is too much here because it is nothing compared to the hybrid argument.  First, the definition of the hybrid must be looked at.  I wouldn’t think that a Malibu hybrid (that used to exist) would be counted the same as a Prius.  But what is also interesting is that the wheel base and track width are so important.  If I was in the business of making cars, I would see about making hybrid buses like GM has been doing.  Each one would be what, like 4 cars?

  • avatar

    Perhaps to governator could help reduce carbon emissions by not commuting by private jet.

  • avatar

    As the entire climate change industry is discovered by everyone to be a massive fraud, California keeps going its own way.  I suggest they increase the mpg target to, who knows?, what about 50 mpg?  What difference does it make when it’s all arbitrary, anyway.  I wish the rest of the union would secede from California.  Then, maybe they can ask Mexico to bail them out.  But I suspect soon the state will become a federal protectorate, and then Washington can call all the shots (which is in reality what they really want to do).

    • 0 avatar

      Why stop at 50mpg? – If the bureaucracy wants to order something then make it 500mpg. That would lower our oil purchases by one-tenth. Of course, the basic science may have something to say about achieving 500mpg.

      The District of Control doesn’t have any money.  They have plenty of green ink though (courtesy Ben Bernanke).

  • avatar

    CARBs entire purpose in life is to shift goalposts. You give any governmental agency the power to make the rules and no responsibility for actually living up to them, then the lazy bast^X^X^Xureaucrats will just sit on their asses and change the rules every so often.
    This is done solely to keep themselves in a position of power.

  • avatar

    You gotta love a state with millions of people living in what would be an uninhabitable desert but for their massive, unsustainable pilfering of other states resources, which they then squander on sprawl and mansions encrusted in smog, trying to dictate good environmental stewardsmanship to others.

  • avatar

    I think CARB assumes that because in the early 70s people made legislation to make   catalytic converters mandatory, and it basically caused a lot of complaining from the (arrogant, complacent) Detroit automakers, that all other technology CARB wants can be similarly legislated into existence. Like electric cars.
    Meanwhile, the world’s fifty biggest ships put out more pollution then the entirity of the world’s cars put together. Oh but wait, everybody knows it is the EVIL CAR that causes all the world’s pollution:

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Would the last person out of California, please turn out the lights.

    • 0 avatar

      No need to… the lights here are on timers with light sensors utilizing the latest in LED lighting technology to reduce the amount of energy used.  The lights are mounted on man-made poles comprised of fecal matter from Santa’s reindeer, the Tooth Fairy and urine collected from our overpopulation of chihuahuas.
      We get the government we deserve… an ignorant population reaps an ignorant set of representatives.  Californians know more about “Pants on the Ground” than local political matters.

  • avatar

    Same can be said for houses in the US.  What is ‘on’ nearly 24/7… heating and cooling of a house.  But apparently that 1 hour of driving to work and back was the most evil thing to Mother Earth.  I’m glad I don’t live in California.

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