State Air Resources Board officials will call for scaling back a mandate requiring automakers to sell tens of thousands of zero-emission vehicles in California, and instead will allow manufacturers to get credit for making low-polluting hybrid vehicles, according to people familiar with the proposal.
General Motors Corp. has challenged the current mandate in court, delaying its implementation. But the new proposal, to be made public Monday, has already come under fire from environmentalists, who say it lets automakers off the hook.
"We have seen this new proposal, and we have told the [board's] staff that it needs to be strengthened," said Roland Hwang, a Berkeley-based energy policies analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He would not elaborate.
The Union of Concerned Scientists worries that a weaker rule "would mean a blackout of ZEV [Zero Emission Vehicle] development for this decade," said Jason Mark, director of lobbying and research for the group's clean-vehicle program. "But our sense is that things are still very much in play," he said Friday. "We want to ensure that there will be a requirement that zero-emission vehicles still are built this decade."
Air board spokesman Jerry Martin confirmed that the staff recommendation would allow emission-producing hybrids to be used to satisfy most zero-emission requirements, at least through 2008. But he insisted the new plan "doesn't eliminate ZEVs," and said it would lead to a greater reduction in air pollution than the version that GM has stalled.
Environmentalists backed the ZEV mandate as a valuable tool for forcing development of advanced auto technologies.
After its release Monday, the proposal is scheduled for a public hearing and an Air Resources Board vote in Sacramento on March 27.