In summary

Gov. Newsom should prioritize clean transportation and incentive funding for buyers of zero-emission vehicles to achieve his executive order.

By Phil Ting

Assemblymember Phil Ting, a Democrat from San Francisco, represents the 19th Assembly District, Assemblymember.Ting@assembly.ca.gov.

John Boesel, Special to CalMatters

John Bossel is CEO of CALSTART, a national clean transportation membership organization. calstart@calstart.org.

As Californians remain vigilant, focused on managing the day-to-day challenges of our current COVID-19 reality, it can be hard to imagine what a better, cleaner and stronger California could look like after the pandemic. But that is exactly what we should be doing and planning for – making investments now to ensure we emerge from this health and economic crisis with a more equitable and healthier state.  

As a member of the Assembly and a representative of the clean transportation industry, we agree that one of the single most important things we can do is commit to and grow our state’s clean energy and transportation sectors. Focusing on clean transportation technologies and systems can reduce pollution, create jobs and make our communities more livable, as we begin our “new normal.” 

We applaud the governor’s recent executive order to require all new passenger cars and trucks sold in California be zero-emissions by the year 2035, as well as our state’s longer term goals for zero-emission trucks and off-road equipment. These bold actions, coupled with the Advanced Clean Trucks rule – requiring California commercial truck and van manufacturers to begin selling zero-emission trucks for the 2024 model year – puts the Golden State in a global leadership position. These clear policies will drive the industry to invest in clean transportation, spurring jobs in California.  

But more needs to be done. What we need now is a similarly clear signal to purchasers of zero-emission vehicles, ZEVs, much like the state did with the “million solar roofs” program. In 2005, a few years after the energy crisis, the state set an ambitious policy goal of having solar panels on all new homes. Along the way, we helped homeowners move toward energy independence and lowered their electric bills – all while creating a more sustainable energy future.  

The Legislature created a 10-year, $3 billion declining rebate program to incentivize homeowners and small businesses to go solar. The hope was to install 3,000 megawatts of solar capacity – enough to power 1 million homes. The advantage of this design was that the solar industry and consumers knew exactly what the state had committed to, and what kind of incentives would be available to them. Funding decreased and phased out on a predictable schedule.  

The Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom should create a similarly modeled incentive program for vehicles, one of the greatest sources of air pollution. We need a multi-year funding mechanism that will help consumers who want to buy a zero-emission car and companies with truck fleets looking to make the transition to zero-emission vehicles. Such a funding mechanism would give manufacturers certainty that buyers of all types of ZEVs will be able to afford the new models they are bringing to market.  

To bolster rapid change, it is critical the up-front sticker price difference between gas-powered vehicles and zero-emission vehicles be at least partially offset by state incentives for several years. Putting new ZEVs within reach for more purchasers will also help develop a thriving used ZEV market and make zero-emission vehicles more affordable for California families and fleets. 

We’ve already seen what can happen when rebates go away by looking at the light-duty (passenger) vehicle market, which was beginning to quickly evolve in California. That is, until the federal tax credit was eliminated for many purchasers and zero-emission vehicles sales started to decline. 

Through his budget proposal in January, the governor has the opportunity to send that clear signal. We urge him to prioritize clean transportation and incentive funding for purchasers of zero-emission vehicles, specifically to lay a pathway to achieving his executive order. Our world-leading policies are setting ambitious goals for manufacturers and public fleets. Let us now support purchasers in getting these vehicles on the road.       

If we want clean air, we need clean cars, buses and trucks; and we need folks to buy them. With strategic investments in our people, our economy and our communities now, we can create a healthier and more sustainable future while also growing local, well-paying manufacturing and ZEV infrastructure jobs. California must continue to lead the country with an ambitious clean air and clean jobs agenda. The need has never been greater.  

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