The Smog State: Vehicle Emissions Still Rising in California, Despite Regulations
Despite aggressive regulatory efforts to counter pollution, California emissions from on-road transportation rose by roughly 4.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2015 vs one year earlier, according to the San Francisco-based non-profit Next 10. The state also had the dubious honor of housing six of the country’s 10 most polluted cities, based on data from the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report released last April.
While topography plays a major role (cities located in valleys and basins have a tendency to trap air pollutants), much of the problem has to do with Californians driving more. Let’s face it, gas is cheap and public transit options are typically the less-enjoyable option in all but the most densely packed cities. In fact, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation has seen declining ridership over the last two years — even though the city has a major issue with traffic.
Advocates for stringent fuel economy standards and zero-emission vehicle mandates claim the state should tighten the rules and enforce stricter ordinances. The strategy is something Governor Jerry Brown and California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols both appear to be in favor of.
Next 10’s report, cited by Bloomberg, indicated that motorists have been clocking more miles and state residents have abandoned public transportation. The one-two punch lessened California’s total greenhouse gas emissions decrease for 2015 at less than half the rate of the prior year.
“Transportation sector emissions vastly outweigh other carbon-producing areas of California’s economy,” Adam Fowler, an analyst at Beacon Economics, the research and consulting firm that compiled Next 10’s California Green Innovation Index, said in a statement. “The recent spike should alert policy-makers that despite our best efforts, more must be done.”
The spike accounted for a 3.1 percent increase in tailpipe exhaust from motor vehicles in 2015. But total greenhouse gas emissions fell by roughly 0.34 percent, according to the report.
With the Trump administration dug in its heels — vowing to maintain present-day goals, regardless of what the restructured Environmental Protection Agency decides to do. In March, the California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to move ahead with progressively stricter tailpipe emissions laws, along with a separate mandate that requires automakers to sell more zero-emissions vehicles within the state.
“What were you thinking when you threw yourself on the mercy of the Trump administration to solve your problems?” Nichols asked automakers leading up to the vote.
President Trump issued a soft promise to industry executives at the beginning of the year, explaining he would convince the EPA to weaken existing regulations to defend American jobs and bolster automotive productivity. Currently under review, the EPA is expected to make a final decision on the rules by year’s end.
However, in spite of California’s longstanding zero-emission vehicle mandates, transportation still accounted for 38.5 percent of the state’s total emissions in 2015 — much more than any other sector. Last year, Governor Brown signed legislation requiring the state to reduce its CO2 emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels before 2030.
[Image: Union of Concerned Scientists]
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