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Meet the Woman Guiding California to 100% Electric Vehicles by 2030

One of the most influential environmental regulators may be someone you never heard of. She is Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board—twice over. She is pushing automakers to exceed the current 2025 goal for electric vehicles.
August 5, 2015, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"Even if most people outside California have never heard of Mary Nichols, she’s the world’s most influential automotive regu­lator, says Levi Tillemann, author of The Great Race, a book on the future of automo­bile technology," writes John Lippert for Bloomberg News. "Under her leadership, the Air Resources Board [CARB or ARB] has been the driving force for electrification," Tillemann says.

Regulations on the books in California, set in 2012, require that 2.7 percent of new cars sold in the state be (in 2015), in the regulatory jargon, ZEVs [zero-emission-vehicles]. These are defined as battery-only or fuel-cell cars, and plug-in hybrids. The quota rises every year starting in 2018 and reaches 22 percent* [sic] in 2025. Nichols wants 100 percent of the new vehicles sold to be zero- or almost-zero-emissions by 2030, in part through greater use of low-carbon fuels that she’s also promoting.

In addition to the ARB regulation, Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order in 2012 "laying the foundation for 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on California’s roadways by 2025." 

Credits for EVs play key role

The ZEV mandate is more complicated than a simple numerical quota for electric ve­hicles. There can be a range of credits for plug-in hybrids, such as the Chevrolet Volt, and other advanced technologies (the almost-zero-emission category Nichols refers to). [See regulation on credits (PDF)]

Edmund's Senior Editor, John O'Dell, explains: "Automakers are required to amass a certain number of credits each year and they can meet the requirement in one of two ways."

  • One is to build the required number of vehicles. 
  • If they can't or won't build as many as required, they can make up the difference by purchasing excess credits from automakers that have exceeded their base requirement."

Lippert chronicles the storied background of Mary Nichols, who worked for Gov. Brown in his first term as Chair of the Air Resources Board term as governor, President Clinton in the EPA, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Chair of ARB, and continues in that position today.

*Correspondent's notes: As posted here when the initial "Advanced Clean Car Rules" was released in 2012, the EV target was 15% by 2025. I believe that 22% applies to "the minimum ZEV credit percentage requirement" by 2025. Look for a clarifying comment below shortly.

Hat tip to Brian Paddock.

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Published on Sunday, August 2, 2015 in Bloomberg News
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