Influencers Opinion

What impact will California’s aggressive climate change goals have on drivers?

Note to readers: Each week through November 2019, a selection of our 101 California Influencers answers a question that is critical to California’s future. Topics include education, healthcare, environment, housing and economic growth.

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California Influencers this week answered the question: What will be the impact of the state’s aggressive climate change goals on California drivers? Below are the Influencers’ answers in their entirety.

“Ultimately, I believe we’re moving closer to self-driving vehicles, which studies have shown will make our streets safer”

Bob Hertzberg - California State Senator (D-Van Nuys)

There will be fewer drivers. People are more aware of their carbon footprint, and more likely to make daily decisions to improve the environment they live in.

A more non-obvious answer is that we will reduce costs for people. As the costs associated with driving cars increase and we make our streets more livable through transit-oriented development, it will be more affordable to choose alternative transportation. My staff in Sacramento ride bikes and take rideshare instead of driving every day, and they save a boatload of cash. With rideshare carpools and shared bicycles in the mix, we may even see a decline in traffic in places like my home in Los Angeles.

As fewer people purchase cars and rely more on rideshare, we can lessen the “range anxiety” that keeps folks from buying electric vehicles, while still encouraging those companies to employ EVs. Ultimately, I believe we’re moving closer to self-driving vehicles, which studies have shown will make our streets safer.

“The state’s climate change policies may be as much a social experiment as environmental policy”

Dave Puglia - Executive Vice President of the Western Growers Association

Apart from the overarching goal of doing what one state can to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, proponents of California’s climate change policies seem also to want to change certain aspects of the California culture. Climate change policies and high energy costs may indeed erode our historically strong “car culture” (and resistance to public transportation), as well as our preference for living in suburban and exurban communities that require long commutes. Whether we will, in great numbers, happily convert to a European-like transportation ethic – deemphasizing our affinity for cars, becoming heavily dependent on public transportation and raising families in highly dense urban housing – is another matter. The state’s climate change policies may be as much a social experiment as environmental policy.

“California is a global climate leader”

Kate Gordon - Director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research

California is a global climate leader. Our emission targets, carbon pricing system, and drive toward cleaner electricity and fuels have truly set the standard.

But there’s one area where we need to continue to make improvements, and that’s our vehicle emissions. Today, transportation accounts for 51 percent of all California’s emissions – and the number keeps rising. Why? It’s partly because of our housing affordability crisis, as Californians move farther and farther away from their jobs in search of a place to live. It’s also because many are still driving older, inefficient vehicles – and most still drive alone instead of carpooling or using transit.

The solution? Better, cleaner options for drivers – including options for people who don’t want to drive.

California continues to lead on zero-emission vehicle adoption, even in the face of federal rollbacks of CAFÉ standards. But we need to make ZEVs more available across income categories, and especially to those who are trading in their older cars for more efficient models. At the same time, we need to expand our definition of “climate policy” to include land use policies focused on giving Californians more housing options near transit and jobs. That’s how we create a climate-friendly California for All.

“If we prematurely make it even harder to produce oil in the state, we will do more harm than good”

Catherine Reheis-Boyd - President of the Western States Petroleum Association

Climate change is a real issue, and the oil and gas industry shares the sense of urgency many people feel. For us, the urgency is around making sure we take the right approach, not just the most politically convenient one. This is a complex issue to solve, and we believe that the only truly sustainable energy future is one that aligns the interests of our environment, our sense of social equality, and our shared economic prosperity.

We recognize and embrace the importance and promise of renewable energy sources. But the fact remains that the internal combustion engine will continue to be the primary way 40 million Californians get to work and school for the foreseeable future. And if we prematurely make it even harder to produce oil in the state, we will do more harm than good. According to several California government and independent nonpartisan studies, climate regulations and excise taxes on fuels already cost consumers $1.04 a gallon at the pump.

So the question we should be asking ourselves is how do we come together as one California to drive the most immediate improvements in carbon emission reductions, economic security and reliable access to energy for all?

“California drivers – and residents in general – will have more and better choices in important parts of their lives”

Michael Mantell - President of the Resources Legacy Fund

California drivers – and residents in general – will have more and better choices in important parts of their lives. They will be able choose cleaner transportation systems, including expanded and more convenient public transit; opportunities to live in communities where they can walk or bike to work, school, and daily errands instead of driving; and the chance to save thousands of dollars each year by not spending as much on cars and gasoline, energy for their homes, or water. In addition, Californians who choose to walk, bike, and use transit will live more active and thus healthier lifestyles, thus spending less for medical care. And the state’s climate change strategies will add to that effect, by cleaning the air as they reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The question is how to reduce the cost impact of our state’s climate goals”

Kristin Olsen - Stanislaus County Supervisor

California’s aggressive climate change goals will continue to increase costs for California drivers – through higher gas prices, especially – but they are also expediting technological innovation in a way that many drivers look forward to, including self-driving cars and electric vehicles that are beginning to compete better with traditional vehicles. The question is how to reduce the cost impact of our state’s climate goals, particularly on people in inland California who are much more reliant on driving than people in urban and coastal communities.

“Aggressive electrification is meaningless if we don’t simultaneously decarbonize our electric sector”

Danielle Osborn Mills - Director of the American Wind Energy Association of California

If the Golden State is to continue to lead the fight against climate change, we need integrated policy solutions that address affordability, land use planning, and clean electricity. To reduce and ultimately eliminate emissions from the transportation sector, California should plan communities and energy infrastructure together to enable aggressive electrification of cars, trucks, and mass transit. We need to build a network of charging stations throughout the region and ensure that chargers are powered around the clock by the most affordable renewable energy money can buy. Low-cost, high quality wind energy can power California in the evening and throughout the night, allowing Californians to charge their cars and fleets in their sleep, when utility rates are the lowest.

Aggressive electrification is meaningless if we don’t simultaneously decarbonize our electric sector – and to do that affordably, utilities will need to invest in wholesale wind and solar energy from the windiest and sunniest areas of the West, and modernize our transmission system to bring those renewables to California customers and drivers at lowest cost.

“The impact upon drivers is already upon them in higher prices at the pump”

Rob Stutzman - Founder and President of Stutzman Public Affairs

The impact upon drivers is already upon them in higher prices at the pump due to fuels being subject to cap and trade. The legislative analyst has opined that Californians could pay over 70 cents per gallon by 2030 to cover this cost. As with all of California’s aspirational climate goals, the path to fewer auto emissions will be increasingly expensive and economically regressive.

“Hope you can afford a Tesla!”

James Gallagher - California State Assemblyman (R-Yuba City)

California drivers will pay more at the pump, have to travel greater distances to work, and spend more time stuck in traffic. Hope you can afford a Tesla!

“Now is the time to think differently about energy: who owns it, who controls it, who manages it”

Bernadette Del Chiaro - Executive Director of the California Solar and Storage Association

Most Californians will soon drive an electric car. Good bye dirty air. Goodbye smelly gas station. Goodbye international oil cartel determining the cost to fill up.

Now is the time to think differently about energy: who owns it, who controls it, who manages it. Thanks to renewable energy, we have the opportunity to achieve aggressive climate goals while easing the transition to a cleaner future through democratized energy.

Under this vision, energy will be hyper-local. Prices will be determined by the cost of rooftop solar and a battery. Or, the charging service that comes with an apartment or workplace. For summer road trips, phone apps will display the most competitively priced charging stations along the route. Behind this massive infrastructure will be millions of local solar panels, energy storage devices, and wind turbines powering our mobility.

It won’t be without speed bumps. Companies that are doing well in the current centralized energy system will fight to stay in control. Policy makers, from the governing boards of municipal utilities to the legislature and CPUC, need to block anti-competitive behavior that will delay our transition to a cleaner future. Fees on rooftop solar panels, for example, need to be stopped and we need to prioritize self-generation if we hope to truly solve climate change and protect drivers’ pocketbooks.

“Drivers will have cleaner air to breathe - but still live in some of the most polluted cities in the nation”

V. John White - Co-founder and executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies

California’s climate goals impact drivers - also known as human beings - in many ways.

Drivers will have cleaner air to breathe - but still live in some of the most polluted cities in the nation - so we must redouble our efforts to cut freight pollution from heavy duty trucks and diesel equipment that disproportionately impact frontline communities. Costs of electric buses and hydrogen fuel cell trucks are falling, and beginning to replace dirtier vehicles, but expanded investment in infrastructure and incentives are needed to speed up the transition.

Thanks to our zero-emission vehicle standards, drivers here have access to the most diverse clean vehicle market in the nation and additional incentive programs to expand zero emission mobility through community car share and ride share programs in disadvantaged communities. Within 10 years, and maybe sooner, electric vehicles will cost the same or less, than their polluting, internal combustion, counterparts. But our congressionally-granted Clean Air Act authority to set and enforce the standards that have built this market are being threatened by the Trump administration.

And while our drivers have access to a wide range of vehicles options - they have to spend too much time in their cars. Vehicle miles traveled are up and transportation emissions have spiked because people are forced to drive hours to their jobs - so we need to tackle the housing crisis with infill housing close to transit, walkable communities and reliable, affordable public transit that gets people out of their cars.

“For too long, our poorest communities have been choked by emissions generated by the only vehicles they can afford”

Kevin de Leon - Senate President pro Tempore Emeritus

The climate policies California has put in place – from 100% clean, renewable energy to our strict tailpipe emission standards – represent a historic opportunity to change drivers’ experience on the roads and secure environmental justice in all our communities.

The cost of electric vehicles will continue to drop – making them accessible for more Californians, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Zero-emission public transportation options will expand, reducing traffic congestion. Working parents will spend less time behind the wheel, and more time with their children.

However, California will not meet its aggressive clean air goals until we make a serious attempt to slash tailpipe emissions from the cars, buses, and trucks that congest our roads and highways. Once we do – driving will be a more equitable experience for families, commuters, and workers in the gig economy.

For too long, our poorest communities have been choked by emissions generated by the only vehicles they can afford. By forcefully moving the right policies, California can continue to do what it has always done best: turn its greatest environmental challenges into economic opportunities and a better quality of life for all.

“Taxes, not gasoline prices, are the reason California is the state with the second-highest cost for operating a car”

Karen Skelton - Founder and President of Skelton Strategies

With California focusing heavily on climate change initiatives, there is no doubt that drivers in the state will have to fork up a heavier chunk of change than in previous years. Rising prices for gasoline and vehicle registration add to our state’s high prices for transportation costs. However, according to the LA Times, taxes, not gasoline prices, are the reason California is the state with the second-highest cost for operating a car. This poses the question of which other sectors of the economy will be affected as CA’s progressive climate goals continue. Companies focused on clean tech are posed for an opportunity here. With the energy crisis of the 2000s, the transportation industry rapidly started to develop electric vehicle technology and this will continue into the next century. The NRDC currently views the clean tech industry as ”an engine for high quality job growth” and California continues to lead the way in this space so more drivers can continue to afford clean tech and hybrid vehicles. Although the impact of our state’s aggressive climate change goals will be expensive for “traditional” drivers, there is also an opportunity for innovation within clean tech transportation which will ultimately benefit the state and all Californians.

“#FutureisElectric for California drivers”

Tammy Tran - Senior Manager of Community Engagement for Southern California Edison

[California’s transportation sector accounts for 45% greenhouse gas emissions and more than 80% of the state’s air pollution.]


California drivers have been responsive to the environmental and air quality benefits of driving electric – California leads the nation with almost 600,000 electric vehicles. Southern California Edison’s Clean Power and Electrification Pathway analysis shows that we need seven million electric vehicles by 2030 to meet our climate and clean air goals. But the urgency and scale needed to meet these goals will require us to overcome barriers and perceptions that impact California drivers: charging infrastructure convenience, availability of models and providing the right incentives for affordability. The adoption of a new personal mobility system is not easy, but the driver impact can be positive. There are collaborative efforts like Veloz bringing together public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders focused on raising EV awareness and reaching all Californians, including those in low-income and disadvantaged communities. #FutureisElectric for California drivers.


Dan Schnur, a veteran analyst and longtime participant in California politics, is director of the California Influencers series for McClatchy”
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