THE ISSUE: The California Air Resources Board last week approved sweeping new vehicle efficiency rules requiring, among other things, that 15 percent of cars sold in the Golden State by 2025 are "zero-emission vehicles," such as a plug-in electric.
Are California's emission rules for new cars reasonable?
Ben Boychuk: No
CARB's mandate that one in seven new cars sold by 2025 be "zero-emission" is utopian public policy fueled by green fantasies housed in a frame of pure crony capitalism. But think of the savings!
True, zero-emission vehicles, or ZEVs, haven't much of a market today, and certainly not one that can compete without heavy-duty subsidies and tax rebates. But please think of the savings!
Chevrolet's vaunted Volt, for example, starts at about $40,000. But the federal government read: taxpayers like you and me will kick back $7,500 in rebates. Throw in a $1,500 credit from California for the 2012 model, and the price is a more proletarian $31,000 plus tax, title and license.
Rich Karlgaard of Forbes called this arrangement "welfare for the sanctimonious" an apt characterization, as General Motors reports the average income of a Volt buyer is $170,000 a year. Hey, at least they're still part of the "99 percent." And, by the way, think of the savings!
The feds and various state governments showered $3 billion on the Volt's development a fraction of the $67 billion the Obama administration is putting into advanced battery research and development. Mind you, the Volt isn't even a pure plug-in ZEV it has a backup gasoline engine. Chevy has sold 7,671 of the cars in two years, which means each of those cars rolls off the line with a six-figure taxpayer subsidy.
But won't you please think of the savings?
Auto industry experts estimate California's new mandates will add about $3,200 to the average price of a new car. CARB disputes that number, figuring the rules will add $1,900 at most. That's $1,300 in savings right there!
Perhaps Californians can use that incredible windfall to help offset their rising electricity bills. AB 32 and a mandate requiring one-third of California's energy needs be met through renewables such as solar, wind and geothermal, guarantee substantial rate hikes for years to come, even with subsidies.
And those plug-in vehicles CARB wants you to buy are going to raise your electric bill, too, in ways not immediately obvious.
Your average neighborhood transformer, for example, services about 10 houses. According to Southern California Edison, buying an electric car is akin to adding one-third of a house. Utilities anticipate spending billions on new infrastructure costs that will be passed on to ratepayers. But try hard to imagine the savings!
What is reasonable and what may be achievable are two different questions, of course. Anything is achievable when you have gobs of money to throw around. Now think of all the money you don't have. Then think of the savings.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, www.city-journal.org/california.
Pia Lopez: Yes
Hey, Ben, in your speed to denounce imagined "utopia," you've forgotten a few real-world issues.
Because of mountain ranges that trap air, California has a unique problem with air pollution. And while we've made headway in reducing emissions per person, we still have a problem with air quality.
That's why California has taken on the role as the nation's leader in trying to reduce auto emissions.
The same naysaying we hear today was said about the catalytic converter in the 1970s, one of California's first "technology-forcing" regulations that went nationwide.
At the time, Ford president Lee Iacocca claimed the catalytic converter rule would "cause Ford to shut down." We would see "reduction of gross national product by $17 billion"; "increased unemployment of 800,000"; and "decreased tax receipts of $5 billion at all levels of government so that some local governments would become insolvent."
In fact, industry stepped up to produce pollution control capability on deadline. The doomsday predictions came and went, like preacher Harold Camping's predictions of the end of the world.
Yes, today's all-electric zero-emissions vehicles are more expensive than conventional cars. But Ben doth protest too much. Of the best-selling vehicles in 2011, the Ford F-Series costs $30,000 to $50,000; Toyota Camry, $22,000 to $29,000.
By comparison, the all-electric Nissan Leaf costs $35,000 to $37,000 before rebates, with batteries the biggest cost. However, advances in energy storage systems continue apace. Expect prices to drop over time.
In operating costs, all-electric cars beat conventional gasoline-powered cars hands-down. Southern California Edison, contrary to Ben's claims, does not anticipate being overwhelmed. It encourages people to charge electric cars in off-peak hours between 9 p.m. and noon.
The utility has a nice calculator comparing costs. Assume you live in Long Beach and drive 12,000 miles a year. With your conventional car getting 25 miles per gallon and a gallon costing $3.71, you pay $137 a month for gas. An all-electric car would cost $55 for electricity each month.
That's a savings of $82 a month, $984 a year or $4,984 over the life of the typical five-year car loan. Yet Ben scoffs.
Ben conspicuously does not mention that Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Nissan and other auto companies support the new standard. They know that having 1.4 million zero-emission cars on California roads in 13 years (out of 30 million) is entirely feasible.
A dystopia with no technological advances and smog continuing to hang over our cities and valleys is not what California is about.
Pia Lopez is an editorial writer at The Bee.