Driving Emissions to Zero: Are the Benefits of California's Zero Emission Vehicle Program Worth the Costs?

By Lloyd Dixon; Isaac Porche et al. | Go to book overview

1.
CALIFORNIA'S AIR POLLUTION PROBLEM AND THE ZEV PROGRAM

California has made significant progress in improving air quality in many parts of the state. The improvement has been particularly dramatic in the South Coast Air Basin,1 where the number of days that ozone levels exceeded federal standards fell from over 150 a year in the 1980s to 41 in 1999 (SCAQMD, 2001). The improvement in the South Coast has been due to increasingly stringent regulations being imposed on a wide range of stationary and mobile emission sources. However, even though much progress has been made, emissions of non-methane organic gases (NMOG) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) must still be substantially reduced to meet federal standards by 2010, as required by the Clean Air Act.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) have adopted an aggressive strategy to reduce emissions. A controversial part of this strategy is the state's Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program. Starting in 2003, manufacturers that sell more than 60,000 light-duty vehicles (LDVs)—i.e., passenger cars and light-duty trucks (LDTs)—in the state must begin selling ZEVs. The number of ZEVs required is modest at first and then ramps up gradually over time. The ZEV program is a first step in achieving CARB's long-term goal of reducing vehicle emissions to zero. CARB believes that reliance on traditional gasoline-engine technology will not allow California to meet air quality requirements, and in its vision of the future, “the entire vehicle fleet will produce zero tailpipe emissions and will use fuels with minimal 'fuel cycle' emissions” (CARB, 2000b, p. 2).2

This report examines whether the ZEV program and the goal of a zero emission fleet more generally make sense for California. To this end, it examines the promise of the technologies that can be used to satisfy ZEV program requirements. It looks at the costs of ZEVs and the emission benefits they generate. It also reviews the ZEV program in the context of the overall strategy for reducing emissions in the South Coast Air Basin, and it compares the cost-effectiveness of ZEVs with that of other components of the overall strategy.

The rest of this section describes the ZEV program, reviews the main arguments for and against ZEVs, discusses the contributions of this study to the debate, and provides an outline of the report.

____________________
1
The South Coast Air Basin includes all of Orange County and the western, urbanized portions of Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.
2
Fuel-cycle emissions occur during vehicle refueling and the production and transportation of fuel.

-1-

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