One of the reasons society has so many rules and regulations is because it’s so difficult for most of us to do the right thing on our own. Take driving, for example.
Most of us know that cars and trucks are responsible for 40 percent of our state’s air pollution. Most of us can see that we live in a bowl, that traps emissions in our air. Most will even admit that creating all that exhaust contributes to global warming, which is not-so-slowly destroying our planet (even Exxon admits it). And any parent of an asthmatic child knows that airborne pollutants can put their son or daughter into the hospital, gasping for breath.
Still, we love our gas-guzzling pickups and carbon-belching SUVs.
Thanks to those freedom-fettering regulations, gas is now cleaner and auto manufacturers make cars that are more fuel efficient and less polluting. Apparently, we’re going to need more such rules in this battle.
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Gov. Jerry Brown wants to put 1.5 million more zero-emission cars on the road within the decade. Californians own 24 million cars and drive 330 billion miles per year, emitting 290 billion pounds of pollutants. Today, fewer than 1 percent of Californians drive zero-emission vehicles; only 5 percent drive hybrids. Even if we reach the governor’s goals, we’ll still have a long way to go. Here’s how we begin the journey.
First, the Public Utilities Commission needs to quit dragging its feet on rules for creating more plug-in infrastructure. Utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison are prepared to install charging systems at airports, apartment complexes and work places across the state. Convenient recharging would make owning an electric car more attractive while ramping up new income streams for the utilities.
But the PUC worries the utilities, which enjoy monopoly status, will overcharge ratepayers for the build-out or crowd out private competitors such as ChargePoint. Last week, the PUC released one proposed decision for one phase of one pilot project. We’re losing our patience. Surveys show the lack of charging stations is a big reason drivers cling to their smogbombs.
Next, overhaul the state’s clean-car incentives program. Though state rebates appear ample – up to $2,500 for new ZEVs on top of a federal rebate of $7,500 (and even more for low- and moderate-income buyers) – they’re half what they once were. With cars costing $30,000 to $100,000, people in the Valley can’t afford them. Lawmakers should consider regional incentives, so that more money goes for getting cleaner cars on the roads where the air is the dirtiest – the Central Valley.
With gas at $2.25 a gallon, people will burn it just for convenience. But the convenience of drive-thrus has an awful cost.
It made more sense 20 years ago when cars emitted more pollution on ignition than they did while idling for 2 minutes. Now, cars are cleaner when they fire up, so it’s better to turn them off than to idle for 2 or 3 minutes while waiting for a cup of coffee. The same is true for those sitting at traffic lights; simply put, round-abouts keep you moving and save you gas.
Finally, with SUVs and pickup trucks making up 56 percent of all U.S. vehicle sales, it’s pointless to tell people they shouldn’t drive them. It sounds like whining, because it is. Instead, make those drivers take responsibility for their choices. Remember those hidden costs – asthma, bronchitis, acid rain, smog, global warming? If your Tahoe or Navigator contributes more to those problems than does your neighbor’s Volt, you should have to pay more to help solve them.
The fairest way to defray those hidden costs is with a carbon fee at the pump, i.e., higher gas taxes.
If we’re serious, we’ll consider all of these solutions. They’ll make it easier to do the right thing.