Bill to weaponize clean car rebates stalls in California’s pollution battle against Trump

In Summary

A bill to restrict clean car rebates to vehicles from companies that signed on to California's greenhouse gas deal stalled in the state Legislature.

A plan to weaponize clean car rebates in California’s ongoing feud with the Trump administration over tailpipe pollution stalled in the state Legislature Monday. 

The bill, by San Francisco Democratic Assemblymember Phil Ting, would have restricted clean car rebates to people buying from automakers that have sided with the state. That would have meant millions of dollars of incentives for Californians to buy clean vehicles from Honda, Ford, Volkswagen, and BMW — the four major automakers that agreed to follow California’s clean car rules

The bill, AB 40, was up for consideration by the Assembly Transportation Committee today, but Ting elected to pull it — citing too little support. The decision means the bill will advance no further this year, which Ting called disappointing. 

“But I am not deterred,” Ting said in a statement emailed to CalMatters. “I will keep pushing to decarbonize our transportation system because our climate crisis is worsening rapidly.” 

The legislation was intended as another strike against federal efforts to roll back tough tailpipe pollution rules that require carmakers to curb greenhouse gas pollution and increase fuel efficiency to reach an average of roughly 50 miles per gallon by model year 2025

The Trump administration has proposed freezing fuel economy standards at 37 miles per gallon — and, in the meantime, has revoked California’s authority to make its own greenhouse gas rules for cars, SUVs, light-duty pickup trucks, and crossover vehicles

California is fighting the move in court. The state also cut its own deal with Honda, Ford, BMW, and Volkswagen, giving the carmakers extra time to hit California’s greenhouse gas targets. In return, the carmakers agreed to recognize California’s authority, regardless of federal rollbacks. 

Even as the bill aimed to restrict payouts from California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, which provides Californians with rebates of up to $7,000 for buying or leasing zero-emission vehicles, the bill also would have set state targets for 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030, and 10 million by 2035. 

That’s why Assemblymember Jim Frazier, a Democrat from Fairfield and chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee, decided to neither support nor oppose the bill — which he called contradictory. “On the one hand, AB 40 proposes to codify an ambitious state goal to deploy millions of zero-emission vehicles,” he said in a statement emailed to CalMatters. “And on the other hand, it restricts the state’s ability to incentivize the purchase of those vehicles.”

Even as Ting’s bill stalled, however, California already has set in motion plans to leverage its pocketbook against car companies that sided with the Trump administration — pledging in November to stop purchasing cars from manufacturers that haven’t signed on to the state’s deal. 

At the time, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement: “Carmakers that have chosen to be on the wrong side of history will be on the losing end of California’s buying power.”

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