The California Air Resources Board March 27 amended the state\u2019s zero emissions vehicle rule to trim the number of pollution-free cars powered strictly by batteries or fuel cells. In place of the previously required number of cleaner cars automakers have to supply beginning in 2012, the Air Board substituted a requirement calling for sale of plug-in hybrid models, which use gasoline, and cars with hydrogen burning internal combustion engines. \u201cThe program seems to have lost its way,\u201d observed Mary Nichols, Air Board chair, as she opened a day-long public hearing on the changes in the state\u2019s landmark zero emissions vehicle regulations. \u201cOur goal today is to get the California vehicle program on track.\u201d Many of the arguments centered on whether the amendments favored electricity from the grid or hydrogen to power the cars of the future. The board adopted the amendments after hearing almost four hours of testimony from electric vehicle booster Chelsea Sexton, electric vehicle associations, automakers like Honda, and energy independence crusaders like former Central Intelligence Agency director James Woolsey. Dave Modisette, California Electric Transportation Coalition executive director, called plug-in hybrid technology \u201cthe shining jewel\u201d of the Air Board\u2019s new strategy. The coalition includes state electric utilities. Others lauded the technology too. \u201cElectricity is the alternative motor fuel that is truly low carbon and it will become lower carbon in the future,\u201d said Robert Sawyer, former Air Board chair. \u201cThe distribution system is already there.\u201d However, to make sure that electric vehicles can be powered with renewable energy, the Air Board should encourage green energy projects and needed transmission lines to connect them to the grid, said V. John White, Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technology executive director. The board\u2019s action came after a technology assessment conducted last year showed that existing hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric vehicle technology is not ready for large- scale commercial use, said James Goldstene, Air Board executive officer. Under the changes, automakers are relieved of the requirement to build and sell 25,000 zero emission cars between 2012 and 2014. Instead, they will have to build and sell just 7,500 of the zero emissions cars. In exchange, however, the amendments call for carmakers to build and sell more than 50,000 vehicles between 2012 and 2014 that either use plug-in hybrid technology or burn hydrogen. The number would grow after that. Plug-in hybrids have both a gasoline-powered engine and an electric motor powered by a battery pack that is recharged off the power grid. They can go a limited distance strictly on electric power--for instance, far enough to cover the average commute--and rely on their gasoline engines for longer trips. Utilities also are studying how they might be integrated into the power grid to store renewable energy. In passing the amendments, the board directed its staff to develop further amendments to the rules sometime in 2009 that would make them a central part of the state\u2019s strategy for cutting greenhouse gases and reducing dependence on petroleum. In the 2009 round of amendments, California utilities also might face regulation. Board member Dorene D\u2019Adamo said the agency should require utilities to install electric vehicle charging infrastructure to make it easier for people to drive battery-powered autos and plug-in hybrid models. \u201cWe can\u2019t succeed without a strong infrastructure,\u201d agreed Jerry Hill, Air Board member. Editor\u2019s note: For a more detailed report, please see our sister publication E=MC2- Energy Meets Climate Challenge. You can find it at energymeetsclimate.com.