The Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was accused of betraying his green credentials recently after the state slashed its targets for zero-emission vehicles by around 70% and lessened the requirement for hydrogen-powered vehicles on its roads.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) yesterday revised the target to just 7,500 vehicles, a 70% reduction and the move is the latest in a series of drastic erosions of the zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) programme, which stipulated that 10% of cars made by the country's main manufacturers should be emission-free by 2003.

Environmental group Friends of the Earth complained that the state has bowed to car manufacturers by weakening a mandate, set five years ago, for at least 25,000 electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles to be on California's roads by 2014.

While it is noted that CARB is a state agency independent of Schwarzenegger, campaigners have been disappointed by the former movie star’s failure to take a public stand on the ZEV issue before the board's decision - given his otherwise noisy advocacy of the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Danielle Fugere, FoE's West Coast Director, said with disappointment, “This is another step backwards. The move by CARB is political, it's because of pressure from auto-makers. We didn't see him pushing CARB to do the right thing.”

The decision is now widely expected to affect 12 other states that had adopted California's ZEV target.

Car manufactures, which had reportedly lobbied aggressively and even threatened to go to court to fight the previous mandate, said they were pleased with the revised measure. They said that the previous target was too rushed and they needed more time to develop affordable hydrogen and battery-powered vehicles.

Initiatives will be back

All is not entirely lost in the quest for cleaner, greener vehicles in the state, however. To help compensate for downgrading its ZEV mandate, the CARB has set new rules requiring them to build nearly 60,000 plug-in hybrid vehicles in California while the technology that will allow mass production of pure zero-emission vehicles is developed.

Mary Nichols, Chair of CARB, hit back, “We're introducing a whole new category of vehicles to the public. I don't think it's a step backwards in the real world.”