The mandate could result in more than 1 million all-electric, plug-in hybrid electric and hydrogen vehicles on California's roads in the next decade, about 20 times the amount of such cars on U.S. roads today. It's the latest move in California's half-century-long effort to cut air pollution and carbon emissions from cars and trucks.
California has sole authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate new car emissions, so long as the state's standards are as stringent as federal standards and the EPA grants it a waiver. It earned that designation largely because of its pioneering efforts in the late 1950's to limit smog emissions, long before the federal government got on board.
Currently, California is waiting for a waiver from the EPA to move ahead with the ZEV program. Ann Notthoff, the California director of the NRDC Action Fund, the advocacy arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said EPA is expected to grant the waiver this year.
Notthoff said if Romney had won the presidency, and a decision on the waiver was delayed, it could have potentially put the program at risk.
The EPA's approval will open the door for other states to adopt the ZEV rule. Ten states and Washington, D.C., have already pledged to do so for the 2018-2025 model years. They are: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.
That could double the impact of California's program and spur sales of more than 3.3 million electric and hydrogen cars across the country, according to estimates.
Overall, Notthoff and other environmental advocates are breathing a sigh of relief. "It's going to be easier to move forward" under Obama, Notthoff said.
The onus is now on California to show other states the environmental and economic benefits of adopting its policies, said Horowitz of UCLA. "I don’t think that depends very much on who is in the White House."