In October 2002, the Bush administration joined automakers and car dealers in their lawsuit against the California Air Resources Board's Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate, arguing that it amounted to an attempt to regulate fuel economy, which only the federal government has the authority to do. From 1990 to 2004, seven other states adopted California's stringent ZEV mandate. Then, in April 2004, the California Air Resources Board further modified its ZEV mandate, effectively eliminating electric cars from the clean air equation.
The Bush administration's antagonism to the electric vehicle is perhaps unsurprising, given its links to the oil and automotive industries. For example, Bush's former Chief of Staff Andrew Card had been a GM Vice President, and was President and CEO of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association during its assault on the ZEV mandate in California (see "Bush Administration Links to the Oil and Auto Industries" in the Fact Sheet).
The last time fuel efficiency was really a federal priority came during the Carter administration as a result of the OPEC oil embargo. Under the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, fuel economy increased by more than 50% between 1975 and 1985. Then in the mid-80s, the price of oil plummeted. Some saw this as a deliberate strategy by the Saudis and OPEC to ensure America's continuing dependence on oil. With cheap oil and a Reagan administration that was, at best, indifferent to conservation (signaled when it tore solar panels installed by Jimmy Carter off the White House roof), advances in fuel economy were stopped cold. Fuel economy and alternatives to oil have been politically unattractive for ever since.
Even under the Clinton administration, CAFE standards remained unchanged. Clinton gambled on a "Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles" (PNGV), a public-private collaboration involving automakers, universities and the federal government. PNGV put forth $1.5 billion dollars to develop, by 2004, a family-sized car that could get 80 miles per gallon. Half a billion in government funds were earmarked to develop hybrid vehicle technology. But critics noted that the program was a convenient way to avoid raising corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. In January 2002, with George W. Bush now in office, Clinton's program was terminated and replaced with the FreedomCAR (Cooperative Automotive Research), a federal program that subsidizes the development of hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Japan, meanwhile, was continuing to make strides with hybrid vehicle technology, and Toyota and Honda grabbed the first and largest hybrid market share, with the American launch of the Toyota Prius in 2000 and Honda Insight in 1999. American car companies have responded to the success of the Toyota Prius by developing their own hybrid vehicles, but they are far behind. In fuel efficiency, American hybrids are barely an improvement over conventional gas cars.
With the American public increasingly alarmed over the price of oil and the war in Iraq, the Bush administration signaled a policy shift in the January 31, 2006 State of the Union Address. President Bush called for increasing research on better batteries for hybrid and electric cars, and for development of alternative energies for cars. Whether this will be pursued remains to be seen.click here for link
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