Clean Air Regulations: Thoughts on Practicality

Smoking Tailpipe
Ready to be super-regulated?

The state of California today passed sweeping new automobile regulations today in an attempt to reduce pollutants & greenhouse gases.  These regulations include:

  1. a requirement that one in seven of the new cars sold in the state in 2025 be an electric or other zero-emission vehicle.
  2. a mandate to have 1.4 million electric and hybrid vehicles on state roads by 2025.
  3. a mandate for a 75 percent reduction in smog-forming pollutants by 2025.
  4. and a mandate for 34 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over roughly the same time.

States surely do have the right to regulate commerce & emissions within their own borders, no argument there.  Let’s also ignore the whole greenhouse gas emission debate – it’s really not relevant to the discussion here.  What is interesting is the practicality of these “mandates”, particularly the first one, and how they could feasibly be implemented.

If there truly would be a requirement that one in seven new cars sold in the state be a non-traditional vehicle, this would imply that dealers must be constantly tracking car sales by type.  It would mean that customers potentially could go into their dealer, ready to put down a check for a new traditional gas/diesel vehicle, and be told by the dealer “I’m sorry, we’ll put you in the queue for that car, but until another electric vehicle is sold first, we can’t actually close the sale.”

Sound ridiculous?  Well, that’s what the regulation actually says: 1 in 7 MUST be electric or other zero-emission vehicles.  The only way to truly guarantee that is to have a real-time data system implemented that allows the sale of six traditional vehicles for every electric vehicle sold, and blocks subsequent traditional vehicle sales until the next electric vehicle is sold.  I wonder how much such a system will cost to develop, maintain, and utilize?

I have a feeling that the subsequent mandates #2-#4 are nothing more than assumed consequences of what will happen given that the sales ratio (mandate #1) is successful.  Would those numbers really work out in such a case?  Have they factored in that pollution is still generated by electric cars, just at the power plant rather than from the tailpipe?  One must assume so.

Wouldn’t it be far easier, far less intrusive, and far more friendly to individual liberty to simply adjust existing taxes & fees to achieve nearly the same goal?  Certainly there is an annual registration fee (I imagine quite high) to register a car in California.  Why couldn’t the same objective of promoting electric/no-emission vehicles be met far more easily by simply increasing the annual registration fee on traditional vehicles and/or decreasing the annual registration fee on electric/no-emission vehicles?

Regulators often get overly full of themselves, believing they can wield immense power to directly implement any desired result without giving thought to the consequences and impracticality of doing so.  One of the best features of our republic is having 50 laboratories of democracy each conducting their own experiments, and I for one cannot wait to see the results of this one.