Opinion

Needed: A coordinated state strategy for ZEV transition

An all-electric Nissan Leaf is seen on a freeway in Mountain View. (Photo: Sundry Photography, via Shutterstock)

California’s future is green and electric.

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an ambitious goal to end the sale of gasoline and diesel-powered cars by 2035, and he has proposed $3 billion from the budget surplus to accelerate a zero-emissions future. Advocates across the nation are urging Congress to maintain investments in electric transportation as negotiations for a federal infrastructure package continue.

A transition to electric vehicles is a bold and necessary vision. Transportation is responsible for almost half of the state’s emissions and the reason why so many of our communities breathe unhealthy air. Reducing emissions is key to mitigating the impacts of climate change and improving air quality – issues that hit underserved communities first and worst. There is no time to waste in making a zero-emissions future happen.

In our large and diverse state, success is only possible if we don’t leave behind communities of color and low-income residents. That’s why we need a coordinated, state-led strategy to meet the California’s ambitious EV goals, build the infrastructure needed and ensure equitable outcomes, while growing our economy and creating green jobs. SB551 is a bill making its way through the Legislature that would create a California Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Authority to provide the coordination and leadership needed to help 40 million Californians make the switch.

As it stands now, the responsibility to put the various pieces together is housed at more than 20 state agencies that often have other competing priorities.

SB551 is a bill that we can’t afford to ignore, particularly because leadership at the highest levels of state government will be key in making equity a priority during the transition to zero emissions.

Simply put, removing the combustion engine from California’s roads will require a whole-of-government approach. This is an economy-wide transformation that touches every aspect of the lives of Californians.

To realize the full potential of the economic, workforce, environmental and equity opportunities, the moment demands a next-level effort with a high-level ZEV czar appointed to lead the charge.

As it stands now, the responsibility to put the various pieces together is housed at more than 20 state agencies that often have other competing priorities. Local governments, the private sector and labor have key roles that need coordination. A transformation of this scope requires a position that is responsible and accountable to the governor, legislature and people of California for making it happen in the fairest and most efficient way possible.

The move toward an electric future is not only exciting and ambitious – it has the potential to save lives, clean the environment, and create much-needed jobs…

We learned in the pandemic that equity doesn’t happen without a laser-focus on making it a priority. The ZEV Authority can be tasked with leveraging federal and state resources to build a network of charging stations and creating jobs that lift people out of poverty. A coordinated response can create incentives that get people into clean vehicles and prioritizes financial assistance to those who cannot otherwise afford to make the switch. Making the role a senior position builds in accountability to ensure frontline communities get immediate assistance in tackling the environmental injustices caused by air pollution.

A ZEV Authority can also put a focus on heavy duty freight, whose traffic affects the low-income communities that live on busy corridors and pay a disproportionate price of devastating health impacts from pollution generated by trucks that move goods across the country.

In our roles as a cleantech incubator and environmental justice advocate, we know firsthand the power that government has to accelerate change and the devastating consequences that result from government inaction and uncoordinated action. The move toward an electric future is not only exciting and ambitious – it has the potential to save lives, clean the environment, and create much-needed jobs at a time when our state needs an economic recovery. California’s bold vision requires strategic implementation and the creation of a ZEV Authority is the first step in building the roadmap toward the future.

Editor’s Note: Matt Petersen is the CEO of Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. Veronica Padilla-Campos is the executive director of Pacoima Beautiful.  (Note, corrects bill number to SB 551 in 3rd and 4th grafs.)

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