In summary

A groundbreaking 2002 California law helped usher in fuel efficiency standards nationwide. Voters should back Proposition 30 and take another major step toward eliminating pollution.

Guest Commentary written by

Fran Pavley

Former state Senator Fran Pavley authored several landmark clean air and climate action laws, including the Global Warming Solutions Act.

When I introduced California’s Clean Car Act 20 years ago, some people viewed it as a radical step. 

It required auto manufacturers to make “maximum feasible” reductions in tailpipe emissions. The need for such action was evident and urgent. California had the worst air quality in the country, children were suffering from unacceptably high levels of respiratory disease and greenhouse gas emissions were imperiling the planet.

The auto industry fought California as we implemented the law, but we ultimately prevailed in the U.S. Supreme Court. Other states followed our lead. Under President Obama, stringent new fuel efficiency standards were implemented nationwide. The Trump administration tried in vain to undo all of that.

Two decades later, we’ve made some progress. Even as the number of vehicles on our highways has increased, the number of days in which parts of our state exceed federal air quality standards has leveled off. Studies show that new asthma cases in children have declined by 20%.

But the need for further action remains evident and urgent. California still has the worst air quality in the nation. Too many children still carry inhalers in their backpacks. Too many babies are born prematurely or underweight because of the air their mothers breathe. The climate crisis is worsening.

California needs to finish the job. Vehicle emissions remain the single largest source of air pollution and greenhouse gasses in California. To clean the air and avoid climate catastrophe, we must get them down to zero.

California can demonstrate renewed leadership by adopting Proposition 30, a statewide measure on the November ballot. It would generate sustainable funding to enable the transition to zero-emission transportation. It would provide subsidies to make it possible for average Californians to purchase battery-electric and other zero-emission cars, and it would help finance the charging station infrastructure needed to support them.

Significantly, Prop. 30 would also require that at least half those investments be made in the low-income communities, which are the least protected from air pollution.

This investment would be financed through a 1.75% tax increase on income exceeding $2 million annually. Only a very few, very wealthy Californians would be affected. But because so much wealth is concentrated in so few hands, that small increase would produce big results.

Two decades ago, I heard the doomsday predictions about the Clean Car Act. Critics said it would increase costs and limit the types of vehicles on the market. None of that happened. 

Imagine not just how much worse our air quality would be but also how much more Californians would be paying for gas if average fuel efficiency was still at 20.4 miles per gallon, as it was in 2002, instead of today’s 36 mpg average.

Critics now say electric cars will be too expensive and that the transition to zero-emission will limit the types of vehicles on the market. Well, the price differential between gas-powered and electric vehicles is closing fast – even faster, when you also calculate the cost of operating a gas-powered car on $6 a gallon gas.

Affordability remains a serious concern for many low- and middle-income families. And the lack of charging infrastructure – particularly in communities of color and lower-income areas – also poses a serious hurdle that must be addressed. Prop. 30 offers a solution.

With up to $4 billion per year in new investment in zero-emission vehicles under Prop. 30, California will spur the marketplace and drive innovation that will further bring down costs and eliminate barriers to ownership. The effects of that, just as with the Clean Car Act, will spread across the nation and the world.

Those of us supporting Prop. 30 recognize that this is the jumpstart needed to produce a new era of clean air and clean cars. The financing would expire after 20 years – or sooner if emission reduction goals are achieved before then.

We can finish the job. We can usher in an era of cleaner air, healthier kids and a more stable climate. Supporting Prop. 30 can make it happen.


Critics argue that Prop. 30 is unnecessary given California’s recent budget investments and benefits special interest groups. Click here to learn more about their position.

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