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USA: Five questions with CARB: Why is California pushing for electric cars?

Today, we kick off a new series of interview-driven posts focused the most influential people, companies, and organizations in the automotive industry by speaking with California Air Resources Board (aka CARB, a division of the California EPA). The aim with these periodic reports is to go behind the scenes to see what’s driving trends that could affect consumers and the cars they buy in coming years.

CARB has had a pervasive impact on requirements for fuel economy and electric cars in the past 20 years. We spoke with David Clegern, a climate change spokesman for CARB, to learn more about the efforts of this influential agency.

CARB continues to push higher fuel economy and tighter emissions regulations than the rest of the country. Plus, CARB has said it plans to continue to drive ahead of the nation on this. Why?
We have a waiver from the EPA that allows us to set our own standards, as long as they are as stringent or more stringent than federal rules.

Despite all the improvements we have made, we still have in some areas, some of the worst air quality in the country. And some of these areas are also out of compliance with federal EPA regulations. And until we get that beaten back, we pretty much have to mold our regulations to fight that battle.

And now we have the greenhouse-gas issue, as well.

We develop our emissions standards for California. Ultimately, the beneficiaries will be the people of California and consumers.

You know, we love to talk about how we lead the nation, and in some cases we lead the world, and that’s all well and good, but in the end, for us the proof in the pudding is here in California.

Part of the thing that maybe baffles people a little bit about these rules is that they are part of an overall strategy… and effort to synch up the green economy and green technology and the benefits of those things for California. You have the clean car regs that we’re talking about now; you have the low-carbon fuel standard; the cap and trade program; and then there’s a fourth leg of the stool, which is sustainable communities. And the goal of that is to help communities design themselves in a way that can make the most use of these things that we’re asking people to take on. So it’s an across-the-board effort as mandated by [California State Assembly Bill] AB32.

What we have set, firmly, are emissions reduction standards, primarily for greenhouse gasses.

What will be the impact of these tighter emissions standards on consumers?
Cars today are about 99-percent cleaner running than they were in 1990. So we’re dealing with a very small amount of smog-forming emissions. And the LEV [low-emissions vehicle] portion of this should reduce that to pretty close to nothing. So at that point we move into the ZEV [zero emissions vehicles] phase and we begin focusing almost exclusively on greenhouse gasses.
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