Spurred by persistent environmental campaigners, Governor Jerry Brown claimed, “we’re on our way to a million electric vehicles,” in his January State of the State address. The Brown initiative, likely to be followed up by legislation, asserts California’s leadership in renewable energy, as the federal government remains paralyzed. The “million green cars” goal is certain to be copied by other states seeking to build a clean energy economy.
Brown’s reference in his speech was a brief one, criticizing the 14 billion gallons of gasoline that California motorists burn each year. The governor linked the electric-car message with his promotion of California’s high-speed rail project, which currently is mired in legal and financial quagmires.
There is little doubt that “one million electric cars” is an achievable, affordable goal, especially since the clean energy coalition engineered by Environment California will grow in influence as the program expands. The effort is being called the ‘Charge Ahead California’ campaign with a ten-year plan in mind.
So far, the state program has issued 47,000 rebates and is currently slated for funding in Brown’s $200 million budget this fiscal year. The funds come from the state’s AB 32 cap-and-trade program, which Brown also is eyeing to support his high-speed rail project, among other priorities.
With legislative assistance, the program will be made affordable for moderate-income and working class motorists, reaching beyond the successful and affluent “Prius constituency” built over the past decade.
After a decades-long struggle, beginning during the first Brown administration, from 1974 to 1982, Brown hopes to reach a zero-emissions goal by 2025. The policies have been driven by environmental activism combined with clean-air mandates, towards a government-business partnership that is neither “command-and-control” nor “free market” in character. Decades ago, the Detroit automakers fiercely opposed California standards on the ideological grounds that they held a property right to produce gas-guzzling vehicles. Faced with global competition and consumer protest, the companies slowly relented to federal fuel-efficiency standards, which first originated in California. The same bottom-up process is beginning again as climate change and recession worries grip more Americans coast-to-coast. As reported in the Los Angeles Times in June 2013, Honda, Nissan and Fiat have been in a price war to deliver zero-emission cars to Californians.