A wise man once said that politicians eventually will make the right decision - but only when there is nothing else to do.
California regulators finally appear ready to do the right thing with the state's zero-emission vehicle mandate: Kill it. And it's important that they don't get cold feet and back down.
This month, the California Air Resources Board, or CARB, is expected to drop its ZEV mandate. As written in 1990, the mandate would have required automakers to sell 100,000 electric vehicles this year alone.
At the time, the board expected its mandate to spur the auto industry to develop a new generation of advanced batteries.
But costly nickel-metal hydride and lithium batteries never lived up to expectations. General Motors' EV1 two-seater had a maximum range of 140 miles, and more practical electric cars ran out of juice after 50 miles or so.
As the deadline for compliance neared, the auto industry descended into low comedy. First, GM announced plans to give away its Pathway electric car to colleges, businesses and other organizations in California.
The Pathway is nothing more than a glorified golf cart, unfit for use outside resorts, college campuses and senior citizen complexes. Other automakers - such as Ford with its Th!nk line of electric vehicles - had similar plans.
Last summer, GM and DaimlerChrysler obtained a court injunction to freeze California's electric vehicle mandate.
Now, CARB is ready to dump its ZEV mandate. But the board will require automakers to sell more hybrid-powered cars, plus gasoline-powered vehicles with extremely low emissions.
The auto industry can live with that. But here is a modest suggestion: California should set tough air-quality goals without mandating the technology used to meet those goals. Further progress is possible.