State environmental officials are moving to force automobile manufacturers to start selling vehicles in three years that for all practical purposes do not yet exist.
Draft rules released Thursday would mandate that 11 percent of each company’s vehicles sold in Arizona beginning in the 2011 model year have zero emissions. That would increase to 16 percent by 2018 and beyond.
The only true zero-emission vehicles on the road today are those powered totally by batteries. And for the most part those are “neighborhood electric vehicles,” essentially large golf carts.
But Steve Owens, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, said Arizona’s mandate, coupled with action by other states, will ensure someone develops the technology, either with improved batteries or the alternate approach of fuel-cell vehicles which are powered by hydrogen.
“It will be there,” Owens said. “There are advances that are being made.”
The rules, though, have some flexibility should only a few of these vehicles be available — or only a few Arizonans willing to buy them: Manufacturers could meet the standards by selling a larger number of “partial zero emission vehicles” that emit very low pollutants.
Arizona also would allow manufacturers who don’t want to sell zero-emission vehicles to meet their obligations by purchasing “credits” from other companies who sell more than their share.
And the vehicles even could have heaters which use carbon-based fuels — as long as the heater can’t be operated when the outside temperature is above 40 degrees.
The mandate is in addition to the regulations, mandated by Gov. Janet Napolitano, that each automobile manufacturer reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from its total sales in the state by 37 percent by 2016.
The regulations do not ban the sale of any particular type of vehicle now sold in Arizona. Instead, it sets standards for how much more each manufacturer’s “fleet” of vehicles sold in the state must reduce carbon monoxide from current levels.
That means some models of vehicles may not achieve that 37 percent reduction by 2016. But they could continue to be sold as long as there were sufficient other models with greater greenhouse gas reductions purchased by Arizona consumers.
The DEQ report does not put a price tag on zero-emission vehicles. But Owens acknowledged the emission standards for other vehicles will increase the cost of new cars and light trucks by more than $1,000.
He said, though, implementing the mandate would save money for Arizona consumers in the long run, as the vehicles would be designed to consume less gasoline and would require less maintenance.
As proof, DEQ cites a report done by the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group which also is adopting California vehicle emission standards.
It figured the additional purchase price would translate to $20 a month more in loan payments. But that study, using a gasoline price figure of $1.75 a gallon, computed monthly savings at $23.
And after the vehicle is paid off, the study says, the monthly savings remain.
DEQ also is claiming a net benefit to the Arizona economy, saying what residents don’t spend on gasoline they will spend on other items.
“These expenditures would flow through the economy with the potential to create not only job growth but an increase in personal income,” the agency’s report states.
But the report also says that if Arizona car buyers aren’t convinced of the savings, it is possible they will refuse to buy the more expensive new vehicles and instead look for used cars.
Thursday’s move comes despite the fact they currently cannot be legally implemented.
That is because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has rejected California’s request to adopt greenhouse gas emission standards. And federal law allows other states to adopt either national standards — of which there are none for carbon monoxide — or those from California.
But Steve Owens, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, said he presumes the EPA action will be overturned, either by a federal court or, eventually, by a new director of the federal agency after this year’s presidential election.
Owens also said he does not need authorization from the Legislature to enact the rules.
If you go
What: Public hearing on a plan to force automobile manufacturers to sell zero-emission vehicles
When: 6:30 p.m. March 3
Where: Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, 1110 W. Washington St., Phoenix.
Comments may also be submitted to:
ADEQ Air Quality Planning Section
1110 W. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85007