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Arizona to dump California emissions rulebook

Nissan Leaf Charging Station

A Nissan Leaf charges at a electric vehicle charging station in Portland, Ore. (AP)

California has always led the nation in mandating reduction of tailpipe emissions and development of low- and zero-emission vehicles.

For several years now, states have had the option of adopting stricter California vehicle-emissions regulations or sticking with the national standards. Roughly a dozen states have voted to adhere to the California rules.

Now, Arizona is becoming the first state to give up the stricter California standards and revert to the national standards issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

According to the Cronkite News, the Arizona Governor's Regulatory Review Council voted 5-1 on Tuesday to repeal the state's Clean Cars law. That program included stricter California limits on tailpipe emissions, and mandated sales of a small number of zero-emission vehicles by larger carmakers.

The change came at the request of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, which argued that the state did not have the infrastructure in place to support rollout and adoption of zero-emission vehicles.

Translated, that means ADEQ doesn't appear to believe that Arizonans would buy plug-in cars without a widespread network of public charging stations.

The Governor's Council criticized ADEQ for not submitting any data or models on the economic impact of the regulation that it wanted to repeal.

ADEQ director Henry Darwin attributed his department's recommendation to its sense that the relatively conservative Arizona legislature had sent "a very clear message" that the state should not have stricter emissions requirements than the national rules.

Jim Stack, president of the Electric Auto Association of Phoenix, countered that Arizona is known as the "brown cloud state," a problem that electric vehicles could begin to address.

The Clean Cars program covered vehicles for the 2012 through 2016 model years. It had been adopted in 2008 under then-Governor Janet Napolitano.

California's stricter limits, which were the subject of an extensive court battle, stemmed from the state's longstanding status as a pioneer in limited vehicle emissions. It did so well before any national limits on emissions existed, and even before the 1970 establishment of the national EPA.

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed California's right to regulate the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as a tailpipe emission, in addition to traditional "criteria emissions" of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, and hydrocarbons, along with particulates and evaporated fuel.

That decision led the Obama Administration to lean heavily on the EPA, the NHTSA, California, and the major automakers to come up with a single, unified set of standards for fuel economy and emissions for 2017 through 2025 vehicles.

That agreement was announced by the White House in July, and rules are now being written for its implementation.

Once again, however, it appears that California will add requirements for zero-emission vehicle sales on top of the national standards.

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