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State Air Board Considers Sweeping Fuel-Vehicle Rules to Clean Air

September 28, 1990

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A state board heard last-minute support and objections Thursday to a sweeping anti-smog plan that would force production of low-emission vehicles and distribution of cleaner fuels.

The core of the plan is: A vehicle and its fuel are one system in regard to exhaust emissions. Therefore, reducing emissions demands changes in both.

The California Air Resources Board will vote on the plan Friday.

The plan seeks to overcome the Catch-22 of building alternative-fuel cars when the fuel is unavailable, or marketing cleaner-burning fuels when there are no cars to use those fuels.

It would also require fuel companies to distribute a certain amount of alternative fuel to ensure availability.

Meanwhile Thursday, New York’s Environmental Board adopted auto emission and durability standards equal to California’s, the nation’s strictest.

The new regulations, which take effect in the 1993 model year, are expected to be adopted by 1995 in seven other northeastern states. They require mandatory inspection of exhaust emissions and assembly-line testing and prohibit the sale of replacement parts that do not meet emission standards.

Among the cleaner-burning fuels being considered in the even stricter California proposal are methanol, ethanol, liquefied natural gas and compressed natural gas. Cars powered by electricity are also a possibility.

With filthy air hanging over California cities and roads jammed with 22 million cars, opponents are careful not to criticize the entire proposal but to target certain points.

Oil companies want the state board to abandon mandatory distribution volume quotas for the new fuels because there is no way to force consumers to buy them.

Automakers say they are concerned about the timetable for designing, testing and introducing new vehicles, as well as uncertainty of the technology and the need for marketing incentives.

George Babikian, president of Atlantic Richfield Co., urged the board to eliminate mandatory distribution in favor of mandatory ″availability.″

The plan anticipates introduction of flexible-fuel vehicles which run on either gasoline or methanol blends. Given the choice, Babikian contends, a driver will choose gasoline because it is 30 to 40 cents cheaper per gallon.

If distribution were mandatory, oil companies would lower the price of methanol to sell it and subsidize the alternative fuel by raising the price of gasoline, he said.

The plan would, between 1994 and 2003, require the use of cars that are 50 percent to 84 percent less polluting than those which meet the current strictest standards. The state agency would test the cars’ emissions before licensing them.

In the first year about 200,000 ″ultra clean″ cars would be required, about 10 percent of annual new car sales in California. By 2003, the regulation would cover all 2 million cars sold annually.

The board also would mandate production of so-called zero-emission electric cars starting in 1998. Up to 200,000 electric cars could be in the state by the year 2003, the ARB contends.

The board says the plan is expected to reduce emissions of hydrocarbons by 28 percent, or 185 tons per day; nitrogen oxide by 18 percent, or 248 tons per day; and carbon monoxide by 8 percent, or 3.17 tons per day.

The plan would take effect in the South Coast Air Basin, which encompasses smoggy Los Angeles, before going statewide. The regulations could be challenged in court.

″Certainly a nation that has the capability of building an airplane that you can’t see, a submarine that you can’t hear, can get electric cars built to get us to work and back,″ David Friedman, general manager of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, an electrical power utility, said at the hearing.

″If the government can put one on the moon, surely Detroit can put one on the road.″

James Lents, executive officer of the local South Coast Air Quality Management District, hailed the plan as essential to the district.

″We must continually remind ourselves that our 13 million residents breathe the most polluted air in the nation, and it impairs their lifestyle and health,″ Lents told board members.

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