Tag Archives: California Air Resources Board

Let California Lead: the Green Economy and Lessons from 1990’s Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate

California has always represented a better future, and we seem more impatient to get there than anyone else. The examples are endless: the settlers risking everything to reinvent themselves on California’s fertile soil, the surfers who decided they’d rather surf the streets on skateboards than wait for waves, to the dotcom boom that created the internet age. When California is ready to lead, it’s best if you get out of the way. Because when California leads, it often benefits the entire country — and sometimes the world.

And California is ready to do it again, with a plan to guide America to a greener, cleaner, more sustainable future, and pull the nation out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. That plan is AB 32 (aka the Global Warming Solutions Act), California’s nation-leading initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) to 1990 levels through a mix of energy efficiency, clean/sustainable energy investment and regulations to force California’s polluters to clean up their own messes. In addition to improving the environment and the health of Californians, study after study show that AB 32 will be a major job creator with little or no impact on small businesses. That’s why over 2,400 large and small businesses, many in California, have joined American Businesses for Clean Energy, a diverse coalition calling on Congress to pass clean energy and climate legislation. And with the green/clean economy creating job growth and venture capital investment at a faster rate than the rest of the economy, California could position itself to lead the nation and the world in exportable green technology and solutions, just as it has with computers, software and the internet.

But this is not the first time California has attempted to lead the nation with a pioneering piece of legislation to reduce GHGE. In 1990, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) passed the Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate. It stated that any large automaker selling cars in California would have to derive at least 10% of its overall sales from cars that produce practically zero emissions — with 2% of the cars producing no emissions at all — by 2003. That meant that unless an automaker wanted to lose the huge California car market, they would have to begin making all-electric vehicles.

A great cry went up from defenders of the status quo — eerily similar to what is happening now with AB 32 — predicting economic doom if the legislation was enacted. “Electric cars with broad consumer appeal are an idea whose time has come and gone, much like eight-track tapes, Betamax, and New Coke,” said Jo Cooper, president of a major auto industry lobbying group. “It’s not that we can’t [build electric cars]. It’s that we don’t think it’s the right thing to do. In financial terms, it’s insane,” said Donn Walker, a regional spokesman for General Motors, adding, “The internal combustion engine is here to stay. It’s what customers want.” Automakers warned that plants would shut down, jobs would be lost and businesses would flee the state. Many claimed that it would be pointless for a single state (albeit the world’s 8th largest economy) to take such an ambitious step on its own — all claims currently being made about AB 32.

While automakers and lobbyists filed lawsuits to derail the mandate, they also quietly prepared to comply with it should their efforts fail. And in the case of General Motors, they succeeded in creating a great electric car called the EV1, which was leased to a few hundred lucky Californians (including celebrities like Tom Hanks and Mel Gibson) who quickly fell in love with it. Because of California’s leadership, it seemed like the automotive future had finally arrived and America could begin the long farewell to smog, dependence on foreign oil and one of the major contributors to global warming.

Then George W. Bush was elected, with an administration full of former oil executives, as well as Andrew Card, the former CEO of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association and GM’s VP of government relations, as chief of staff. The ZEV mandate was killed and GM took back and destroyed every EV1, despite the leasees’ offer to purchase them. This sad tale of potential lost is told in the excellent, must-see documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? See my ReThink Review of WKTEC? below and my post about it here.

California was denied the opportunity to lead the nation into a new generation of auto fuel efficiency. And look what happened.

The auto industry went in the opposite direction, creating gas-guzzling SUVs that actually decreased America’s overall fuel efficiency. Our dependence on foreign oil increased, enriching countries like Saudi Arabia (home of Osama bin Laden and nearly all of the 9/11 hijackers), as well as Iran and Venezuela, handing them hundreds of billions as we fruitlessly rattled our sabers at them. Stratospheric spikes in oil prices coupled with the Bush recession left many SUV drivers unable to even fill their tanks, causing demand for gas guzzlers to seemingly evaporate overnight. With hundreds of thousands of SUVs left on their lots and few fuel-efficient or hybrid cars on their rosters, GM and other American carmakers were decimated, declaring bankruptcy, closing dozens of plants, laying off tens of thousands of workers and shuttering or selling off several of their brands. In the meantime, Toyota, which continued their investments in fuel efficiency with hybrid cars like the Prius, became the world’s number one carmaker for the first time in 77 years. Nissan’s electric car, the Leaf, will be onsale in December 2010. This week, GM announced it would stop making Hummers, the worst gas guzzler and an “automotive pariah”, forever.

If California had been allowed to lead with the ZEV mandate, America could have been selling electric cars in the late 1990s instead of fumbling to get their half-baked hybrids and electric concept cars into showrooms as they are now. GM’s electric vehicles and the pioneering technology they were based on would be sold around the world, saving and creating thousands of jobs in the US while reducing pollution from tailpipe emissions.

AB 32 has the same potential, if not more, as the ZEV mandate. And despite high unemployment and economic uncertainty that would seem to breed timidity, Californians are still prepared to lead, and are, in fact, proud of their reputation for doing so. In a recent poll by Tulchin Research, 79% of Californians said they are proud of the state’s leadership in innovation and technology, with a staggering 96% seeing it as an essential part of the state’s economy and 66% feeling strongly that policymakers should boost the tech sector and encourage innovation to strengthen the state’s economy.

California is ready to lead. It’s in our DNA. Don’t listen to the scaremongers defending the status quo, who have been so disastrously wrong in the past. Just let us do it.

(with research by Sarah Phillips)

AB 32 Opponents Vulnerable on Pollution’s Health Hazards

(AB 32 is important for a number of reasons… – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Imagine if Toyota made this statement:

“It has come to our attention that, due to faulty gas pedals, a small number of our cars have killed or injured a small percentage of our customers. However, to recall and repair our cars to address this problem would simply be too costly, especially in this difficult economy. So we are delaying a recall for one year, after which time we will re-evaluate the economic climate and decide whether conditions are favorable enough to initiate a recall. We ask for your patience and understanding during this time.”

Naturally, there would be a furious uproar. How dare a company attempt to put short-term economic interests ahead of people’s health and safety? Yet this is essentially what the opponents of AB 32, California’s nation-leading environmental legislation that seeks to reduce greenhouse gases in California to 1990 levels by 2020, are asking Californians to do. And since there is ample evidence that AB 32 would actually provide a needed boost to California’s economy without harming small businesses, what AB 32 opponents are attempting to do is arguably worse.

Not wanting to appear pro-pollution or tone deaf to Californians’ concerns about the environment, opponents of AB 32 — like Meg Whitman and dirty energy astroturf front the AB 32 Implementation Group (an especially Orwellian moniker for a group that doesn’t want AB 32 implemented) — claim they are deeply concerned about the state of the environment in California. And they should — Californians breathe some of the worst air in the nation, with 95% of Californians living in areas with unhealthy air. The top four most polluted cities in America when it comes to ozone (the primary ingredient in smog) are in California, with six California cities in the top ten. When it comes to the most polluted cities ranked by particulates in the air, the top three cities are in California, with six in the top ten.  

According to the American Lung Association, “numerous studies have linked air pollution to lung cancer, asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes and early death as well as increased hospitalizations for breathing problems.” There is also growing evidence that air pollution actually causes asthma in otherwise healthy children, whose smaller lungs require kids to breath at a faster rate. In addition, a study by the University of Massachusetts and the University of Southern California found that the effects of air pollution fall disproportionately on poor and minority communities. A report by the NRDC determined that if emissions in California are not reduced to 1990 levels, over 700 Californians will die prematurely in 2020 alone, along with thousands of cases of asthma and other respiratory illnesses aggravated by pollution.

The response by AB 32 opponents? “Sucks to be them.”

Am I exaggerating? Not really. That’s because by acknowledging that air pollution is a serious problem, AB 32 opponents are also acknowledging that the health risks caused by pollution are real and serious. If they want to dispute that, they can take it up with the American Lung Association. That’s a fight I’d like to see, and one AB 32 supporters should make them have.

With the economy polling as the #1 concern of Californians, I understand why AB 32 is largely being looked at through the prism of job creation. And AB 32 supporters should be winning easily on this front — the non-profit Center for Resource Solutions (CRS) found that three reports undertaken by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), University of California researchers and Charles River Associates/Electric Power Research Institute using very conservative estimates were correct in their conclusion that implementing AB 32 would generate robust economic growth. By contrast, CRS found that the report by Varshney and Tootelian that AB 32 opponents use to justify their job-loss scaremongering relies on outdated models and takes the perplexing step of ignoring any possible savings or benefits from adopting AB 32.

However, I worry that the media, striving for “balance”, will conclude that one discredited report somehow cancels out three vetted ones, and Californians who will never read the CRS analysis will conclude the same. So Californians, influenced by gobs of advertising and lobbying money from the dirty energy industry, will probably go with their gut instinct, which will tell them that upgrading and changing things (like cars, computers or TVs) usually costs money, and when you’re in debt (like California is) or worried about losing your job, it makes sense to hold off on new purchases. Besides, it’s easier to be scared of making a bad thing worse (job loss) than of losing something you’ve never seen (the green tech economy). It’s unfair, but there’s a good chance it’ll happen.

That’s why supporters of AB 32 would be wise not to put all their strategic eggs in the job creation basket. Because by acknowledging the health risks caused by air pollution, opponents of AB 32 are essentially confirming one of the best reasons why waiting to implement AB 32, like Toyota delaying a recall, is simply unacceptable.

Major Climate Change Legislation Makes California A National Leader

Yesterday’s adoption by the California Air Resources Board of a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is really worthy of praise.  Ignoring the bleatings of neo-Hooverists and apologists for polluters who insist that concern for the environment is a “job-killer,” the board, led by Mary Nichols, put forward 31 rules designed to cut carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.  This will force innovation and provide a boost to the economy and the burgeoning industry of green technology, as the Governor noted in his remarks.

The Modesto Bee has a look at some of the plans.


• Impose an emissions cap on utilities, refineries and other large industrial sources of greenhouse gases.

• Allow those large polluters to gradually lower emissions by participating in a cap-and-trade market.


• Put into effect a 2002 California law requiring automakes to produce cleaner vehicles. The Bush administration has blocked the law, but state regulators expect President-elect Barack Obama’s administration will back it.

• Require fuel companies to reformulate fuels so they are a combined 10 percent less carbon-intensive by 2020.

• Give local governments incentives to curb urban sprawl and reduce how far people drive to work or school.

• Require cargo and cruise ships to turn off their engines while docked.


• Require utilities to generate one-third of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal by 2020.

• Strengthen energy-efficiency standards for appliances, as well as for existing and new buildings.

The fact that a renewable standard, cap and trade, green building, smart growth and development, energy efficiency and clean fuels are all combined into this large agreement is very hopeful.  While the political sector is a mess, this is truly one area where California can become a model for the nation.  And while there will be up-front costs, those can be mitigated by expected federal attention to renewable energy and green jobs, which could allow consumers to be eligible for federal tax incentives to implement these ideas.  What’s more, as Nichols argued, this is a big-picture savings over the long term.

But Air Resource Board chairwoman Mary Nichols said California’s plan would save its residents and businesses money in the long run.

“We believe that California, again and again, has pushed for higher levels of efficiency in our electric sector, our buildings and appliances, and time after time it turns out efficiency measures have not only saved us money but leaped our economy ahead,” Nichols said after the vote.

A board report found that the average household would save $400 a year by driving more fuel-efficient vehicles and living in more energy-efficient homes. And already, private investors have given more than $2.5 billion this year to new companies that have sprung up in California, in part to respond to the state’s environmental goals, said Bob Epstein, co-founder of Environmental Entrepreneurs.

“Our president-elect has called for stimulating our economy,” said Bill Mcgavern, director of California’s Sierra Club. “I think he and the Congress will be looking to the state of California, and these measures can serve as a model for the rest of the country.”

This is one area where we can be proud to be Californians.  The SacBee has more.