Saturday, July 1, 2017

EVs Illustrate Problems with California's Ambitious Climate Targets

This is the sixth installment in a series of posts on California's climate leadership. These posts address a wide range of related topics including economic benefits, renewable energy, and cap-and-trade.

California has the most ambitious climate targets in North America however, there are problems in paradise. Trends in California's vehicle emissions reveal that there is a disconnect between the state's ambitious goals and the actual performance.

California's efforts are what Governor Jerry Brown calls "the most integrated policy to deal with climate change of any political jurisdiction in the Western Hemisphere." The goal is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The state has some of the most progressive climate policies in the world. This includes green building standards, carbon sequestration efforts, and subsidies for electric cars and renewable energy.

The Golden State has shown unparalleled climate leadership. At home California is resisting Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord through its participation in the United States Climate Alliance. Around the world California has brokered a number of deals with foreign governments including China. California demonstrates that decoupling emissions and economic growth is possible.


California has enacted legislation that sets ambitious climate targets. SB32 decreed the state reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. The state’s AB197 created a legislative committee called the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to monitor pollution.

The state plans to achieve these steep carbon cuts through a series of actions including EVs, cap-and-trade regulations, waste diversion, water conservation, and a carbon tax.

California’s SB 1383 reigns in short lived climate pollutants and methane. This is important legislation in light of the atrocious climate impact associated with the Porter Ranch incident.

In April the California state legislature just voted to increase the gas tax from 18 cents to 30 cents. While this is a good move that should contribute to interest in EVs , the same legislature also opted to add a $100/yr fee for EVs starting in 2020. California expands its EV rebate program which is already a national leader $2,500. In an attempt to provide additional incentives to lower income families California has introduced $7,000 tax rebate program for the purchase of new EVs.

Zero emission vehicles

California is synonymous with driving and this contributes to both climate change and poor air quality. The effort to curb emissions from vehicles has been ongoing for 27 years.

Despite Trump's roll-back of Obama era mileage standards, California has the legal right to make its own rules on automotive emissions. California is already the only state that has its own emissions standards for passenger vehicles. California can write its own auto emissions standards because of a waiver granted under the Clean Air Act. State lawyers are ready to defend against the Trump administration's efforts to weaken California’s automobile pollution emission standards.

What happens in California has national implications. Just as California's outgassing rules have increased the standards for the furniture industry nationally, vehicle standards have shaped the automotive industry from coast to coast.

The goal is to transition to zero emission vehicles. This includes electric and hydrogen powered transport.  In 2012 Brown signed an executive order that calls for 1.5 million zero emission vehicles by 2025, and the state has funded infrastructure initiatives meant to advance the goal. This is benefiting both climate action and the state's economy (electric vehicle maker Tesla has appreciated by 60 percent since Trump's election and the company is currently valued at $50 billion).

Minimizing the use of fossil fuels is the most effective way to reduce climate change causing GHGs and improve air quality. However, the number of combustion powered vehicles continues to be a problem in the state.

Goals must be actualized

According to the state's own assessment transportation is the largest source of GHGs accounting for 37 percent of emissions in the state. While the state has lofty transportation goals the current trajectory is trending in the wrong direction.

While lofty goals are laudable the state has struggled to meet existing goals. The average Californian still emits more than 11 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, a little over twice the world average. To have credibility as a global leader more must be done so that the state's objectives are actualized.

On the upside California's EV sales are up 91 percent in year over year first quarter sales in 2017. This strong demand suggests that there is reason to hope that California can meet its ambitious targets.

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