Opinion

Tougher rules to curb vehicle pollution

Rush hour on the Harbor Freeway in Los Angeles. (Photo: Joseph Sohm via Shutterstock)

Californians who want cleaner air have long known that addressing pollution from vehicles is a problem we must address. Transportation accounts for the greatest share of greenhouse gas emissions in California, at 41 percent and trending up.

So it should come as a relief that California’s Air Resources Board recently approved a suite of clean transportation rules that will not only help reduce carbon emissions from vehicles, but will help consumers who are feeling the pain of rising fuel costs in California.

Large oil companies want you to believe they have consumers’ interests at heart. Yet we know they’re more intrinsically motivated by their own bottom dollar concerns.

A report from Consumers Union finds that California’s clean transportation policies could save households up to $1,500 annually by 2030.

One of those policies, which CARB voted to extend to 2030, is the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). The LCFS requires fuel producers to gradually cut the carbon in their fuels each year, reaching 20 percent by 2030. They do this by cleaning up their own fuels or buying credits from producers of lower carbon fuels such as biofuels, hydrogen or electricity.

To date, the LCFS has successfully cut 38 million tons of carbon emissions and generated $2.8 billion in LCFS credit value, spurring investment in the clean fuels market.

Going forward, the standard sends a market signal that we are on a clear path to clean, low-carbon fuels. This is a green light for investment in our state, as businesses now understand that Californians want more and better fuel choices, beyond conventional gasoline and diesel.

Among these alternatives is electricity. The LCFS is further disrupting the transportation sector by accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles, which are cleaner than conventional gasoline-burning vehicles and will only become cleaner over time as our power sector moves to 100 percent carbon-free energy. They’re also far cheaper to drive and maintain than a traditional combustion engine vehicle. No more smog checks, oil changes, or trips to the gas pump.

More pollution means more asthma, cancer, and other illnesses that communities suffer because of fossil energy pollution.

And therein lies the oil industry’s problem with the LCFS.

Large oil companies want you to believe they have consumers’ interests at heart. Yet we know they’re more intrinsically motivated by their own bottom dollar concerns. That’s why they’re spending millions lobbying against California’s clean transportation programs that are making vehicles more fuel-efficient and giving drivers more choices.

Taking a step back, the oil industry’s arguments miss the bigger point: Americans want clean air and market choice.

On the first point, the science is clear. Burning fossil fuels to power engines creates pollution. More pollution means more asthma, cancer, and other illnesses that communities suffer because of fossil energy pollution.

The second point is equally clear. Anyone who has ever shopped at a grocery store knows that choice is preferable. The oil industry only loves to talk about the price at the gas pump because it wants consumers to think that gasoline is their only option when it comes to fueling cars. Like any monopolist, they criticize most harshly the policies and programs that will give consumers more choice, especially when more and more Californians are buying and driving electric vehicles.

When we have more choices in the transportation fuel marketplace, that’s a win for consumers. Oil prices fluctuate, so having diverse low-carbon alternatives means we’re not always obligated to ride the rollercoaster of oil market ups and downs.

California drivers will be well served by heeding true consumer advocates who don’t have a profit motive in pushing for clean transportation policies.

Ed’s Note: Shannon Baker-Branstetter is Consumer Union’s senior policy counsel on energy and environment.


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