E-receipt mandate cold prove costly — and harmful

A man pays digitally at a restaurant using a smart phone. (Photo: Brain2Hands, via Shutterstock)

The demand for clean, cost-effective alternative fuel vehicles, trucks and buses continues to rise. The installation of thousands of alternative fuel pumps and charging stations up and down the state, supported by state grants and dedicated funding, has helped to make this possible. In turn, both personal and commercial alternative fuel vehicles are quite literally driving the state’s reduction in NOx and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

However, a bill making its way through the State Legislature threatens to unravel these advancements and slow the adoption of clean vehicle fleets.

Assembly Bill 161 would make electronic receipts a default option when purchasing goods and services beginning in January 2024. This means that every business in the state must be equipped to send receipts via text, email or some other electronic method in a few short years. This would be an expensive and wasteful undertaking as businesses get rid of perfectly functioning point-of-sale systems to either replace them with new e-receipt capabilities or be stuck without any replacement systems because they simply do not exist.

Thousands of expensive alternative fuel and electric charging stations would have to be ripped out and replaced with new ones that offer digital receipts

Supporters’ justification for the bill is ostensibly the reduction of paper in the waste stream to help the environment. Current legislative analysis of the bill still lacks details about how many businesses will be affected, the risks to customer information, and the overall environmental impact. Nonetheless, we do know that this attempt to solve a supposed environmental issue will have the unintended consequence of creating an actual one.

Let me explain.

If Assembly Bill 161 were to advance and become law, thousands of expensive alternative fuel and electric charging stations would have to be ripped out and replaced with new ones that offer digital receipts. While stations currently have the capability to ask customers whether or not they’d like a paper receipt, they do not have the ability to collect customer data in order to issue a digital copy. On top of that, the technology doesn’t yet exist to retrofit digital receipt capabilities into fueling and charging stations.

The result would be fewer stations available to support the increasing number of clean air vehicles used by municipalities, airports and fleets. This means clean air vehicles may be sidelined, adoption rates will slow dramatically, and the state’s NOx and GHG reduction programs will be significantly impacted.  Most importantly, we will not be cleaning our air.

Furthermore, the grants and investments made by state agencies will have been for naught. If the State Legislature is concerned about waste, the last thing it should be doing is forcing businesses to throw out perfectly good point-of-sale systems simply because they don’t collect the data necessary for an e-receipt.

As with fueling and charging stations, customers already have the ability to print or decline a printed paper receipt. It is wasteful and contrary to the purported environmental goals to create a new barrier to the deployment of clean vehicles because stations aren’t equipped to send digital receipts.

It’s time to take a step back and ask if Assembly Bill 161 is actually worth less for the environment than the paper on which it’s written.

Editor’s Note: Thomas Lawson is the president of the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition.

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