Published in the East Bay Times
By Dan Kalb and Susan Stephenson
With the Trump Administration working to weaken automobile efficiency and pollution standards, policymakers in Sacramento and in cities up and down our state need to boost our collective leadership in the fight against climate change.
An enforceable policy to mandate zero-emission cars would create an ambitious pathway for transitioning away from gasoline-powered vehicles, making California the first state to take this landmark step toward a clean-energy future.
We need the state to set an ambitious and achievable phase-out date for selling new gas-powered passenger cars. All new cars purchased in California after this date would have to be clean, zero-emission vehicles. This new mandate would create certainty for automakers by establishing a robust market for clean cars while identifying a predictable timeline for electric utilities to ensure an orderly transition.
The time has never been riper to embrace this bold, climate-friendly approach and double down on California’s commitment to both a green economy and protecting public health in our communities.
Extracting and refining oil contaminates our water and air and pollutes our climate. The burning of gasoline in cars adds to greenhouse gas pollution and harms public health.
Children living near busy roads are more likely to have learning deficits and asthma. According to the American Lung Association, California’s economy wastes $15 billion a year in preventable health costs due to the impacts of air pollution, including respiratory illness, premature mortality and lost workdays.
And we know that a warming world leads to more air pollution in our communities.
State law should give the auto industry the firm nudge it needs to improve the performance and its array of zero-emission vehicle offerings. The technologies already exist to move us forward.
Thanks to savings on fuel and maintenance and an array of incentives and discounts available for lower-income drivers, some clean-car models already are affordable to many of California’s working families. Imagine how much more appealing clean cars will become as prices continue to drop and model options grow.
Passenger cars are the single biggest source of California’s carbon pollution. A comprehensive clean car strategy is essential for California to reach our vitally important greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals and continue to lead the way across the country.
Transitioning to clean cars will create tens of thousands of California jobs related to transport electrification. We’ll also see economic growth from fuel-cost savings. Every dollar saved at the gas pump and spent on other goods and services ultimately will create 16 times more jobs in California than those supported by the oil industry.
The California Air Resources Board is doing a good job in moving the needle forward on clean cars, yet our state is still behind globally when it comes to phasing out gasoline. Several countries already have committed to ending sales of gas and diesel cars over the next decade or two, including England, France, Norway and India.
Additionally, there is still more work to do statewide and locally to ensure we have the infrastructure to support these zero-emission vehicles.
Government regulation of vehicles is a proven method of improving public health. For example, mandating the switch to unleaded fuel and the use of catalytic converters has helped to clean up our air and prevent many deaths.
We must push back against the harmful and regressive environmental policies of the Trump Administration and take one bold action after another to further reduce air pollution and fight climate change.
In addition to strong, market-based incentive programs, phasing in zero-emission car mandates and phasing out petroleum fuel production would be smart and essential steps in that direction.
Dan Kalb is an Oakland City Council member and vice-chair of the East Bay Community Energy authority serving Alameda County. Susan Stephenson is executive director of California Interfaith Power & Light and vice-chair of the League of Conservation Voters of the East Bay.