WASHINGTON - The auto industry's battles with states over their attempts to set quotas for sales of electric vehicle have taken a bizarre turn.
The EPA, in an opinion submitted to a federal appeals court, says Massachusetts should be allowed to convert agreements between car companies and California into legally binding standards in Massachusetts.
The immediate impact of the opinion, if accepted by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, would be comparatively modest. Carmakers would be obligated to deliver a few thousand zero-emission vehicles to Massachusetts.
But industry officials say that a more important principle is at stake, and that the opinion would set a dangerous precedent.
'The Clean Air Act never contemplated allowing one state to seize on the voluntary agreements of another state and treat them as standards,' said Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Such a ruling would seriously discourage cooperation between industry and government, she said.
Consequently, the alliance has deployed the equivalent of a full-court press against the EPA opinion. The alliance:
Asked the agency to reconsider its view.
Asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Washington to block the opinion.
Is scheduled this week to ask the 1st Circuit judges to reject the agency document.
The flare-up also serves as a stark reminder that state rules requiring automakers to produce -and at least try to sell - tens of thousands of zero-emission vehicles are only on hold. They have not been dropped.
'Right now we see no reason to change any requirement of the 10 percent mandate,' said Jerry Martin, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board.
California still has rules in effect that would require 10 percent of the vehicles offered for sale there be zero-emission vehicles, beginning in the 2003 model year. That would be more than 100,000 cars and trucks a year. Automakers could get only partial credit for each low-emission hybrid-powered vehicle sold.
Previously, the state had set a 2 percent quota on zero-emission vehicles for 1998 and 5 percent for 2001. But after officials realized the targets were unreachable, California and the seven largest automakers agreed instead in 1997 to a pilot project.
As part of the project, carmakers committed to delivering a total of 3,750 zero-emission vehicles to the state during 1998-2000. The state, in addition to dropping the 2 percent and 5 percent quotas, said it would help build a recharging infrastructure and provide incentives to promote sales of the vehicles.
New York, which had adopted California-style vehicle emissions rules, tried to keep the 2 percent and 5 percent quotas in place, but automakers got them overturned by a federal court in August 1998.
Massachusetts, which also had adopted California-like rules, decided automakers also should deliver 3,750 electric cars there during the 1998-2000 period. That move is the subject of the current 1st Circuit case and the EPA opinion.
But Massachusetts did not approve incentives like those in the California agreements, Bergquist said. 'They wanted only the benefits and none of the costs.'