California will set another national precedent for tough smog control laws if, as expected, it orders auto manufacturers to produce electricity-powered cars and mandates the production of "ultraclean" cars and less-polluting fuels.
The state Air Resources Board is expected to approve the measures, which include the nation's first standards for "reformulated" gasoline, requiring cleaner-burning, everyday gasoline in all grades for all cars.
In the past, California pollution-control laws have served as models for federal legislation and for other states. If approved, the cost of the proposed measures is also certain to be passed on to consumers in California, the nation's biggest car market. No price estimates have been made yet.
Top auto manufacturers and oil companies opposed what they consider unrealistic deadlines and volume quotas. A two-day hearing on the laws began in Los Angeles yesterday.
"We are known worldwide for setting emission standards for cars -- but even by California standards this is a major proposal," said Bill Sessa, spokesman for the board. "It's also the world's first requirements for mandatory production of electric cars."
The plan would require manufacturers to phase in production of cars that are 50 percent to 84 percent less polluting than 1993 California models are scheduled to be -- which already are to be the world's cleanest mass-produced cars.
The "ultraclean" standards would be phased in from 1994 to 2003. By 2003, 10 percent of all California cars would have zero emissions, and most of the rest would have emission levels 70 percent below the 1993 level.
The regulations, which become state law when they are approved by the Air Resources Board, would make it necessary for the petroleum industry, auto manufacturers and electric utilities to cooperate, because the standards are so stringent that no one industry can meet them alone.
Some likely solutions are "flex-fuel" cars that could run on a combination of methanol and gasoline, coupled with emission controls similar to those found on today's cars; and cars powered by a superior grade of ultraclean gasoline coupled with an advanced catalytic converter now under development.