Political Notebook

Dan Walters: Brownies massage big data

Gov. Jerry Brown was forced to remove a 50 percent cut in auto petroleum use from a sweeping expansion of his crusade against greenhouse gases to win legislative passage.

In the aftermath, however, administration and legislative staffers began peddling an alternate version to journalists – that it wasn’t a big win for Big Oil, but a big setback, because other amendments would make the state’s electric utilities powerful competitors.

The new provisions call for “widespread transportation electrification” and require electric power utilities to build thousands of charging stations for what the political spinners said would be millions of new electric vehicles – perhaps a quarter of Californians’ cars by 2030.

Some in the media, sad to say, swallowed the notion. But the underlying data reveal just how anemic it is.

Californians drive 33 million cars, and only about 150,000 of them – less than one half of one-percent – are plug-in electrics needing recharging. They also are just 1.3 percent of the nearly 2 million new cars purchased in the state each year.

An executive order from Brown and the state’s current transportation plan envision – very optimistically – 1.5 million electrics by 2025. But that would be less than 5 percent of the current total – not even a flea bite of competition for Big Oil.

That, unfortunately, is not the only example of how the Brown administration is massaging transportation and carbon emission numbers.

Another, cited in this space previously, has to do with Brown’s pet bullet train project, which receives the largest single chunk of proceeds from cap-and-trade auctions of carbon emission permits – money that, by law, is to be used for emission reduction.

The administration touts the electricity-powered bullet train as a major element of its anti-carbon crusade, but the High-Speed Rail Authority projects that when fully operational circa 2040, it would reduce automobile traffic by scarcely 1 percent from current levels.

Still another example is Brown’s plan to raise revenue for state and local roadways, including an increase in the gas tax to generate $5 billion over 10 years.

That revenue figure assumes that gasoline consumption will remain static at 14.7 billion gallons a year. However, Brown’s Air Resources Board is projecting that its rules will reduce consumption to 11 billion gallons by 2025.

Republican Assemblyman Jay Obernolte pointed out the discrepancy when Transportation Secretary Brian Kelly outlined the plan in a recent legislative hearing, but Kelly responded weakly that it’s “a little bit dangerous to overproject one way or the other.”

It’s no small matter. The air board’s projection, if accurate, would slash the assumed gas tax revenue in half.

It’s fundamentally dishonest for Brown’s administration to propose fixing deteriorated highways with tax revenue based on no gas consumption reduction while also promising to make a big cut in that consumption.