In summary

What should California do between now and when the ban on the sale of new gas-powered cars takes effect to achieve clean air?

Profile Image

By Thomas Lawson, Special to CalMatters

Thomas Lawson is president of the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition,

How long should Californians wait for clean air?

At first glance, it appears that California is once again leading by example in battling climate change and providing clean air to those that need it most.  However, for residents of Los Angeles and the Central Valley who currently breathe the dirtiest air in the country, the governor’s September executive order to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars doesn’t go far enough.  

The executive order’s goals are 15 and 25 years away.  So it begs the question, what should California do between now and then?  How is the state going to provide clean air to this generation?   

As CalEPA Jared Secretary Blumenfeld and California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols recently wrote to U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler: “Six of the 10 cities with the worst air pollution nationwide are in California. Ten million Californians in the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles air basins currently live under what is known as “severe non-attainment” conditions for ozone. People in these areas suffer unusually high rates of asthma and cardiopulmonary disease.”

According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Los Angeles region must reduce NOx pollution by 135 million tons per day by 2023 to meet federal air quality standards and by 142 million tons per day by 2031.  A recently adopted regulation requiring 50% of all heavy duty trucks to be Zero Emission Vehicles by 2031 will only reduce 2 million tons per day. 

How will we reduce the remaining 140 tons per day required to meet federal air quality standards?  And why wouldn’t we want to make more meaningful progress now since we have clean trucks today that can help get us there?  

Our state is one of the most innovative, diverse and pioneering states in the Union.  We can and should support longer-term aspirational goals while also making the most of the current set of tools to reduce as much pollution as possible in the near-term.  Deployment of our current tools should be in addition and complimentary to pursuing future goals. 

Our current political discourse is highlighted by our inability to talk and listen to someone that may have a different view on an issue from us.  If we want a respectful discourse, we must practice it and not make allegations against someone’s character just because we don’t like their views on policy. 

That’s why we should applaud legislators who are rolling up their sleeves and looking for ways to create equity and solve problems today. Elected officials like Assemblymember Mike Gipson, a Democrat from Compton who authored Assembly Bill 3111, which seeks to modernize the legacy Carl Moyer program so that we can get more clean trucks, regardless of technology, on the road now; or Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, a Democrat from Buena Park who authored Assembly Bill 1002, which sought to restore fuel-neutrality to the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

The Low Carbon Fuel Standard is providing very significant incentives to develop and sustain clean fuels including renewable natural gas, hydrogen and electricity in California so that we have alternatives to fossil oil and gas in our transportation sector. Creative solutions such as providing a non-monetary incentive such as Assembly Bill 2061, authored by Assemblymember Jim Frazier, a Democrat from Discovery Bay, that grants a weight exemption for electric zero emission and near zero emission heavy duty vehicles, so that fleets have viable alternatives to diesel trucks should be the emulated instead of lambasted.  

It’s imperative that we come together to fight air pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  In the transportation sector the enemy should be high-polluting trucks, and we all should make sure that we stay focused on the prize of clean air.  

Fossil fuels still make up 90% of the fuels used in transportation, yet engines for heavy-duty trucks operated on clean renewable fuel are available today. We can deliver public health and environmental benefits now while the state waits for heavy-duty zero-emission trucks to arrive a decade or more from now.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions: