California Helps Drivers Plug-in and Replace Clunkers with Cleaner Cars

To transform the vehicle fleet, you need to work on both ends — accelerating the purchase of cleaner new vehicles and the retirement of old clunkers. The California legislature is sending a package of bills to Governor Brown’s desk that does just that. Taken as a whole, these policies will ensure Californians at all income levels enjoy the environmental, public health, and financial benefits of cleaner, more efficient vehicles.

Assembly Bill 8, authored by Henry Perea (a companion to Senate Bill 11, authored by Fran Pavley) extends funding for the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, which, amongst other things, provides rebates for new low and zero emission light, medium, and heavy duty vehicles. Senate Bill 359, authored by Ellen Corbett, provides supplementary funding needed to meet growing market demand for the same rebate programs. Together, these bills will ensure California remains the nation’s largest market for plug-in electric vehicles, with almost all of the nation’s medium and heavy duty electric trucks and about a third of the nation’s 130,000 modern plug-in cars (see green line below).

PEV Sales

Meanwhile, Senator Corbett’s “Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Open Access Act” (Senate Bill 454) will help ensure the Californian’s driving those vehicles will have a place to plug them in when they’re not enjoying the convenience of re-fueling at home at a price that’s equivalent to dollar-a-gallon gasoline. Likewise, Marc Levine’s Assembly Bill 1092 will help improve access to charging stations for drivers who live in multi-family buildings.

Transforming the state’s vehicle market isn’t just about getting more clean cars off dealers lots, but also about taking the dirtiest vehicles off the streets. Senate Bill 459, authored by Fran Pavley, aims to reform the state’s Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program, which provides drivers with cash incentives to retire older, higher polluting vehicles and replace them with cleaner cars and trucks. It’s estimated that three-quarters of vehicular pollution in the state comes from one quarter of the cars and trucks on the road.  While the state has had some success in helping people retire those older vehicles, the portion of the program which provides vouchers for consumers to replace those clunkers with cleaner vehicles has yet to be successfully implemented.

Senate Bill 459 will reform the program to help Californians, especially lower income Californians, both retire their old clunkers and replace them with more efficient cars and trucks. This will not only clean our air, but help families that spend a disproportionate share of household income on transportation expenses.  Replacing old vehicles with even moderately more efficient vehicles can provide significant savings; upgrading to a 25 mile per gallon vehicle from a 15 mile per gallon vehicle would save a California driver approximately $1,600 every year.

It’s worth noting that about 95 percent of vehicle parts are recycled, so the package of policies described above will literally be turning old clunkers into cleaner, safer new cars and trucks, accelerating the transformation of the vehicle fleet, cleaning our air, and easing pain at the pump.

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About Author: Max Baumhefner

Max Baumhefner is a Sustainable Energy Fellow with NRDC. He is an attorney, outdoor enthusiast, and environmentalist. His focus is the juncture of the electricity and transportation sectors. More of his posts at can be found at NRDC's Switchboard:

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