California Gov. Jerry Brown may soon sign legislation extending cash rebates given to residents who buy low-emission vehicles from Tesla and other automakers.
While the bill’s details are still evolving, the governor should in principle sign off on the subsidies because they will further spur California’s transition to a clean-energy economy and improve the state’s air quality.
Addressing climate change is the chief motivation for the rebates, which have been in place for years and would be beefed up through the pending legislation. With a populous coastline and dependence on seasonal rains, California is particularly vulnerable to the dangers posed by global warming, including rising sea levels and more-frequent droughts and wildfires. Reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions would help not only California but, given the Golden State’s large population, the rest of the world as well.
Among low-emission modes of transit, electric vehicles in particular present a big opportunity to reduce carbon pollution.
And while the use of most EVs does result in some emissions — the electricity used to power them has to come from somewhere, including fossil fuel-burning plants — such vehicles are, all things considered, far friendlier to the environment than traditional cars, a 2015 Union of Concerned Scientists analysis showed. That’s not to mention California’s requirement that utilities in the state to get half their power from renewable sources by 2030, with tougher standards anticipated in the future.
Ultimately, these purchase rebates help create a robust market for EVs and push the transportation sector into better participating in California’s broader transition to clean energy.
Air quality is a key concern.
For decades, vehicle tailpipe emissions have contributed to smog and other toxic air pollution conditions, which are especially harmful to young children, the elderly, and those with asthma and other lung function impairments. Shifting the mix of vehicles on California’s roads toward EVs has become a necessity.
And undoubtedly, the rest of the world stands to benefit from California’s climate leadership.
Decreasing the demand for oil will reduce the need for risky exploration projects and lessen the chances of environmental disasters like the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Finally, supporting the growth of California’s electric car industry is an investment in the state’s clean-tech sector, which will occupy an increasingly important role in the global economy in years to come.
California’s rebates send an unambiguous signal that, even with the Trump administration’s rejection of the Paris climate agreement, the state is still committed to fostering a thriving clean-tech industry.
Ultimately, California’s low-emission vehicle rebates will support three critical outcomes: lowering carbon emissions harmful to the environment, reducing smog and other forms of air pollution, and boosting economic activity in the state’s clean-energy industry.
That seems like a pretty good deal to me.
— Tseming Yang is a professor of law at Santa Clara University School of Law and a former deputy general counsel at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.