Paul Jacob

On the last day of August, California's legislature and governor made a new law. Instead, they should have gone to the movies.

In particular, they should have gone to see Who Killed the Electric Car?

Why? Not to make the governor look foolish for driving around in his hydrogen-equipped Hummer. The documentary does argue how useless hydrogen fuel cell technology will likely prove, and what a boondoggle federal and state support for it is. But the reason to watch the flick is subtler. Perhaps if California's politicians had carefully thought about the film, they'd have stepped a little more carefully in trying to regulate California's future greenhouse gas emissions.

You see, the new law aims to decrease California's C02 emissions by 25 percent . . . by 2020. But the electric car, the focus of the documentary in question, was almost certainly killed by a previous set of California pollution-related regulations.

Admittedly, the documentarians seem more interested in distributing blame widely rather than targeting one originary factor. But, among the many allegedly guilty parties, California's Air Resources Board (CARB) stands out.

Who killed the all-electric car, many of which ran California's roads, with enthusiastic drivers? The filmmakers blame CARB for withdrawing its Zero Emissions Mandate (ZEM).

I blame CARB for mandating the sales of zero-emissions vehicles in the first place.

You see, in 1990, CARB — initially encouraged by GM's prototype battery electric car — decided that the time was ripe for mandating the sales of such vehicles. The regulation required automobile companies offering new cars in California to sell increasing percentages of zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs) as the years flew by. The mandate even specified what those increased percentages should be in what upcoming years.

But what about the technology? We can fancy any technology we want. As a kid, I read about jet packs and hover cars. Neither is in current mass production, no matter how neat they seemed in the funny papers.

But what about a quiet, non-stinky, ZEV?

ZEVs do exist. One has been popular for over a century. It's called the bicycle.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.