An initiative to clean up the air in California
Today, the real controversy is whether the current federal and state standards are strict enough to really protect public health. There is some evidence that the current standards are too lax, particularly in protecting the most sensitive groups, like children, senior citizens, and individuals with respiratory problems (asthma, etc.). The point is, even the 90 percent figure may be TOO LOW if it is determined that the current standards are too lax.
So that's why the California Air Resources board mandated that 10% of the vehicles sold in California in 2003 must be Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs).
Unfortunately, it simply isn't going to happen by merely requiring car manufacturers to sell more ZEVs. The adoption rate of ZEVs is tiny. Only about 500 are sold each year. The goal is sell 100,000 vehicles per year to meet the 10% requirement (the 10% is based on the million new vehicles sold in California each year by just the big seven).
So if you want to fix the problem, you must provide a reason for consumers to purchase these cars and eliminate or reduce their objections. Namely, you must do two things:
California just recently did something to address the convenience issue. Thanks to work done by California Assemblyman Jim Cunneen, CalETC, and the Kirsch Foundation, we passed a law in California (AB 71) that enables single occupant ZEVs to drive in the HOV lanes starting mid-2000. In addition we are currently working with various cities (San Jose and San Francisco) to provide free parking for ZEVs at parking meters and airports.
But not enough has been done to address the cost issue. There is a small subsidy now, but the cost of an EV is still about double that of the equivalent gas vehicle model. So that's why we need legislation to seriously subsidize the cost of ZEVs. Once we have that, the special incentives and inherent advantages of a ZEV should be sufficient to really launch these vehicles.
Is promoting ZEVs the right way to clean up the
air in California?
Consider this. Suppose we got up to the dream rate of 10% of the cars sold each year being electric cars. Since there are 25M gas vehicles, and ZEVs are virtually pollution free, and there are about 1.5M vehicles sold each year, it would still take 16 years before we'd see a 10% improvement in our air quality (assuming the number of vehicles in California remain constant which of course is not likely, but since gas vehicles get cleaner every year, this should compensate for this). That's insignificant.
So it's pretty clear that if you want to see a measurable impact on the air quality in California, you need to do three things:
So let's take the extreme case. Suppose every single new car sold in California was a ZEV. Then in roughly 8 years, we'd see a 50% reduction in pollution in California. And in 16 years, we'd have the cleanest air in the country (assuming we continue to regulate industrial sources of pollution).
So you really want to incentivize ZEVs because they are so much more dramatically cleaner than hybrids, and because hybrids already have advantages over gas cars (longer driving range, higher mileage), they don't need special subsidies. ZEVs are about 100 times cleaner than a gas car, even when you consider the pollution caused by the electricity generation (in California, about 30% of our power is from green, renewable sources), which is the only pollution that there is since the ZEV vehicle itself is 100% clean. And if you choose to buy your power from a green source, ZEVs are truly virtually pollution free through their lifetime.
Note: I say "virtually pollution free" since although an EV1 never needs an oil change and the car and batteries are recyclable, there is probably some residual pollution and other ZEVs may not be as recyclable as the EV1, so it is never truly zero.
The practical problem of passing such a program is that California governors always veto it. Gray Davis is no exception to the rule. He will veto it because he has pledged "no new taxes." So the initiative is the only way to get something passed. But an initiative wouldn't likely pass the voters since virtually everyone drives a gas car and although air quality is important to everyone and in their long term best interest, it's too easy to vote against something that costs you money.
So I came up with a unique twist on the idea. Since you only need a majority of voters to vote for the initiative, make sure you have a clear majority of support by introducing one small little change: Don't charge everyone a fee. Just charge an additional $35 annual "pollution fee" to the 35% of vehicle types that are the worst polluting at the time you renew your DMV registration. Then you take this pot of money and pay up to $3,500 per year to ZEV owners (subject to the size of the pot). So the bad guys subsidize the good guys in a zero sum game. Excess funds stay in the pot and can be used in subsequent years .
So in the early days, where there are few ZEVs, everyone gets the $3,500 maximum subsidy (you don't want to subsidize at a higher level than this because it isn't required and you want to maximize the number of people who can get the maximum subsidy) which, by making ZEVs cheaper than gas cars, really helps drive ZEV demand and kick start the production volumes. As the installed base of ZEVs grows above around 100,000 vehicles, the subsidy per vehicle decreases from the maximum amount simply because it is divided among more ZEV owners. But by that time, mass production learning curves have reduced the price of a ZEV making it still more attractive to purchase than a gas car. The NRDC website on EVs reveals this is a very plausible argument.
Why an initiative
Arguments against the initiative
Since it affects rich and poor people, it doesn't target a socio-economic class. It is completely class blind. You pollute, you pay. It's that simple.
How we will make it happen
How you can help
Why not index the $35 to inflation?
Why not include ULEV hybrids?
Why not tack on bumping up the schedule for requiring SUVs to
meet passenger car emission standards?
Why not just mandate that vehicles should be cleaner and cleaner
every year and leave it at that?
Large numbers of EVs are part of California's State Implementation Plan to meet federal and state standards for healthy air. We literally cannot meet these standards without EVs. But this just means that if you take EVs out of the Plan then we will not meet the standards, unless they are replaced with some other way to reduce emissions. At this point, however, the State does not know how to get additional emissions reductions. In fact part of the Plan is a reserved "black box" of future emissions reductions based upon technological improvements which are yet unforseen. We don't even know how to fill the "black box" at this time, much less add to it.
Isn't this just taxing the poor to provide a subsidy for the
rich, who are the only ones who can afford ZEVs?
What modifications have been suggested to the original proposal?
So if you are reading this and would vote against the measure as originally drafted, which of the above modifications would cause you personally to vote for the measure? If none apply, please create a modification and I'll add it to the list.