This week, California legislators unveiled a suite of new bills to shrink the state’s environmental footprint.
Among them is a pledge to cut gasoline use by 50% by the year 2030.
It’s ambitious, but it’s the target to go after. California is the second-largest emitter in the country, and transportation is by far its largest source of emissions, at nearly 60 percent.
To meet the goal, the legislators have put forward three proposals that could dramatically shift how Californians get around.
The first is to increase the fuel efficiency of California vehicles to 35 miles per gallon. Right now the national average is less than 25 mpg. And as it turns out, the national average is also California’s average. In an interview with Fusion, State Senator Kevin de León, a co-sponsor of the bills, pointed out that his state sets major automakers’ efficiency standards, and he explicitly called on them to improve fuel efficiency standards.
“We’re asking Detroit to step up its game to use its innovation and technology to increase the mileage for its vehicles so that they can travel further and use less petroleum,” he said. “It’s absolutely critical because of the damage it does for public health, not just in California but throughout the U.S.”
A representative for the Auto Alliance of America, which represents the automakers, did not immediately respond to comment.
The bills are the result of Gov. Jerry Brown’s inaugural address last month, in which, in addition to cutting oil use, he urged the state to increase the amount of electricity derived from renewable sources from one-third to 50 percent.
Doing so will require “millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles,” he said in the speech.
Thus the new bills also call for doubling the use of alternative fuels including electricity, hydrogen, and natural gas. The new legislation calls for unspecified new incentives to bring them to market. The state already has in place an-up-to $5,000 electric vehicle rebate in place for the purchase or lease of new, eligible zero-emission and plug-in hybrid light-duty vehicles.
Finally, the bill proposes reducing growth in vehicle miles traveled to 4 percent. This may perhaps be the greatest obstacle, since California drivers easily rack up the most vehicle miles traveled in the country.
So more public transportation will be required in a state that until recently wasn’t used to seeing a whole lot of it around. But de León says the state already plans to spend billions to create the projects, the most prominent example being the 800-mile, $68 billion high-speed rail line, the most ambitious such project in the U.S. It would travel from San Diego to Sacramento at speeds exceeding 200 mph. Ground broke in January.
“We’re trying to move people from one part of the state to the other and leave their cars at home.”
Russ Chisholm, president of TMD, a transportation consultancy based in Carlsbad, said the state still hasn’t made an airtight business case for high-speed rail, and that even locally it is difficult to install new public transit in areas that weren’t built for it.
At the same time, he said, many Californians have dropped their resistance to local public transport as the quality of the service has improved. This is even true in Los Angeles, he said, which recently revamped its bus rapid transit system and now carries tens of thousands of people a day.
“What they found is that when you run a really great bus service, it can get people out of cars, and get current riders to ride more often,” he said.
The new bill, he said, will likely force local planners to orient development around low-emitting transportation, a massive change from the initial vision of California’s 20th century developers.
“It forces cities and counties to figure out how they should be shaping themselves relative to mobility needs,” he said.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.