Electric car bill gets unplugged

AN electric car takes juice at the L.A. Auto Show. (Photo: Juan Camilo Barnal)

A hasty attempt to boost electric vehicle sales in California – an idea the governor likes – died in the final days of the legislative session amid intense lobbying and fast-approaching deadlines.

The plan called for 15 percent of cars sold in California by 2025 to be Zero Emission Vehicles, or ZEVs. That means they must be all-electric, or even all hydrogen-powered, but not plug-in hybrids, such as the Chevrolet Volt, or conventional hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight.

The bill, AB 1108, by Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Inglewood, requires California’s air-quality enforcer, the Air Resources Board, to write regulations by the end of next year that put the 15 percent benchmark into effect. The measure originally dealt with beverage containers, but was gutted and rewritten to cover electric cars – reflecting a common practice in the late days of a legislative session.

Burke noted that tailpipe emissions kill hundreds of people and cause thousands of cases of respiratory illnesses annually. “The number one thing we can do to address this urgent challenge is to put millions more clean cars on the road,” she said in a written statement posted on her Assembly web site.

The ARB currently is in the midst of reviewing its ZEV policies, and is expected to release its findings in December. They are likely to include a strengthening of the existing rules, which call for a million ZEVs on the road in California by 2023. In an executive order, Gov. Brown has called for 1.5 million ZEVs by 2025.

Currently, California has some 24.4 million registered cars and 111,256 registered all-electric vehicles, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Gov, Jerry Brown, who rarely signals his views of pending legislation, supported Burke’s bill.

“The Governor has been strongly supportive of increasing the number of zero emission vehicles in California. Assemblymember Burke’s bill will lead to more zero emission vehicles and more Californians able to purchase them — and that’s a smart investment in cleaner air,” Brown aide Garreth Lacy wrote Wednesday in an email.

The governor’s public support appeared to give Burke’s new bill a leg up.

But even as the statement was released, the plan was running into logistical problems in the Senate, where there appeared to be insufficient time to schedule hearings amid a crush of major legislation. It also drew intensifying fire from opposing interests led by vehicle manufacturers. Burke put the bill on hold.

The decision effectively kills the bill for the year. The Legislature adjourns by midnight Aug. 31.  The measure could be introduced next year in a new session.

The bill drew attention in the Capitol, partly because it has profound environmental implications and partly because critics said it would benefit all-electric Tesla Motors, which is a major manufacturer of all-electric cars.

An array of other automobile manufacturers opposed the bill, including those represented by the Global Automakers coalition – such as Masserati, Hyundai, Aston Martin, Honda, Toyota, Ferrari, Nissan and others. The group wrote to legislative leaders opposing the legislation, and additional opponents in California’s business community were poised to engage in the issue.

Environmentalists supported the measure.

“We can cut smog and carbon pollution by making plug-in electric vehicles more accessible and available to all Californians,” Simon Mui of the Natural Resources Defense Council said in the statement released by Burke’s office. “The first step is to tune-up the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle Program to ensure the auto industry shifts to high gear.”  

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