Massachusetts air quality regulators recently gained an important ally - the EPA - in their continuing court battle to force automakers to sell electric vehicles there.
The EPA endorsed the state's campaign to emulate California, where seven automakers agreed to produce 3,750 electric vehicles for a large-scale road test.
For many reasons, this is a remarkably foolish idea.
The Clean Air Act permits individual states to adopt either the federal rules or California's tougher air quality standards. The law does not allow states to draw up their own variants of the act.
Massachusetts thinks otherwise. The state wants to convert California's voluntary road test into a mandatory road test. Moreover, it has failed to adopt the generous tax incentives that California offers to electric-vehicle buyers.
The proposed Massachusetts rule makes equally little sense outside the courtroom. California's mild climate allows the year-round use of EVs. It will be interesting to see how much mileage they achieve when Massachusetts' temperatures dip close to zero.
California's fleet of 'electrics' already provides plenty of data to automakers who want to test experimental batteries. Adding several thousand extra vehicles on the East Coast is not likely to spur any major breakthroughs in battery technology.
Moreover, the smart money currently is on fuel cells and hybrid powertrains. In theory, fuel-cell powered vehicles can offer a driving range comparable to conventional cars and trucks. By contrast, automakers are struggling to design 'pure' electric vehicles that can travel more than 100 miles between charges.
Massachusetts should not force the auto industry to adopt a technology that clearly is not ready for prime time. In the next five years or so, the auto industry will deliver more practical alternatives.