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State emissions program repealed in favor of milder federal regulations

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PHOENIX – The Governor’s Regulatory Review Council voted Tuesday to repeal the state’s Clean Cars program, a set of tailpipe-emissions standards adopted in 2008, in favor of less-stringent federal regulations.

Environmentalists argued that the repeal will discourage zero-emission vehicle development and harm the state’s air quality, but supporters of the change said it would have negligible environmental impact and no economic impact.

“We believe this was the best course of action,” said Henry Darwin, director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, which called for the change. “We thought we had a very clear message from the Legislature to not adopt standards more stringent than the federal standard.”

Clean Cars, adopted in 2008, went into effect in January 2011 and applies to vehicles sold in Arizona. Mirroring standards in California, the program requires car companies to lower emissions that harm air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sell and develop infrastructure for zero-emissions vehicles.

In 2008, the federal Clean Air Act forced the state to either adopt tailpipe-emissions regulations from the federal government or from California. At the time, according to an ADEQ memo to the council, a strong national program on tailpipe emissions didn’t exist.

But in May 2010 the federal Environmental Protection Agency revised its fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas standards, prompting ADEQ’s determination that repealing the Clean Car rules in favor of the federal standards would be more beneficial to the state.

With the repeal, the state is dropping its requirement on zero-emissions vehicles. But Arizona didn’t have the infrastructure to support zero-emissions vehicles in the first place, ADEQ argued.

Diane Brown, executive director of Arizona Public Interest Research Group, complained to the council that ADEQ declined to submit an economic impact statement on the change. That decision, she said, overlooks the economic benefits Arizona currently receives from businesses involved in offering electric vehicles.

“I’m extremely disappointed that the agency charged with protecting our air would remove a program that aims to protect public health,” she said after the vote.

Jim Stack, president of the Electric Auto Association of Phoenix, said the repeal will hurt adoption of zero-emissions vehicles in Arizona as well as discourage businesses from moving here.

“We’re known as the brown cloud state,” he said. “I’d like us to be known for the three Es: environment, economy and energy security.”

Members of the council, which ultimately voted 5-1 to repeal Clean Cars, also chided ADEQ for not submitting an economic impact statement.

“The absence of an economic impact statement has made the decision more difficult for everyone here,” said Craig Thomas, who cast the only vote against the change.

Trevor Baggiore, ADEQ’s air quality deputy director, said the repeal wouldn’t affect development of electric vehicles in Arizona.

“When we spoke with Nissan, we were told the Clean Cars rule was at the bottom of their list when they considered Arizona for a test area,” he said.

Nissan released its Leaf electric car in 2010; the EPA rates its fuel economy as the equivalent of 99 miles per gallon.

Siding with ADEQ was Steve Douglas, senior director of environmental affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a coalition of such companies as BMW, Chrysler, Ford and Toyota. He said the repeal won’t affect the industry’s efforts to protect the environment.

“Today’s cleanest gasoline vehicles pollute no more than an electric vehicle,” he said. “Operating a Jet Ski produces more pollution than the SUV pulling it there.”

Council Vice Chair Stan Barnes said he tells his children that they will drive electric vehicles someday.

“I can’t wait for that day,” he said. “In the meantime, there are some important principles involved in pushing the market versus pulling the market.”