New Report Offers Solutions for Low-Income Californians to Switch to EVs

The Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment (CLEE) at Berkeley Law last month­, in conjunction with the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA Law, ­issued Driving Equity, a new reportaimed at presenting important policy solutions to make California’s switch to electric vehicles more realistic for lower income citizens. Topping their list of priorities was offering more rebates and incentives for lower-income car owners, enhancing funding and groundwork for charging stations, and offering financial assistance to greater outreach for community-based groups.

Despite representing the world’s fifth largest economy, California has set some lofty goals to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. Yet before these goals can be met, California must find a way to make significant reductions in vehicle emissions from its more than 14.2 million registered vehicles. Recognizing this need, the California Air Resources Board in April suggested an update to its Advanced Clean Cars regulation that would require a complete elimination of all new fossil-fuel vehicle sales by 2035. In a May 10 draft of their 2022 Scoping Plan, CARB also pushed for a 91-percent reduction in petroleum use by 2045.

Despite some undeniable progress made by California to push people into EVs, its lower-income citizens are still having trouble getting behind the wheel of a new EV due to the typical $40,000-to-$50,000 price tag, lack of any federal tax credits for legacy manufacturers, and fact that new base-price model EVs are just too hard to find.

If it is to achieve its 2035 goal of no more new fossil-fuel vehicle sales, California will have to find a way to get more EVs into the hands of middle- and lower-income citizens who might not have access to a private charging station. Given that, CLEE and the Emmett Institute consulted with several officials and environmental leaders and created a list of top-priority solutions that included: ensuring community stakeholders lead the way in making decisions for an equitable EV transition, offering plenty of public charging stations and support associated grid groundwork, and safeguarding a steady supply of reliable EVs, including larger vehicles and trucks, to meet the wide range of lower-income citizens’ needs.

Meanwhile, the report also outlines several obstacles to an equitable transition. Besides the obvious financial difficulties for lower-income citizens, there is limited access to affordable charging stations, as well as a California population that is largely unaware of this inequity. Thus, the group proposed a number of ideas including increasing existing vehicle rebates to lower upfront EV purchase prices, implementing a subsidized charging payment system, and funding community-based organizations, such as the San Joaquin Clean Vehicle Empowerment Collective, to ensure all Californians learn about available rebates and benefits available to those willing to switch to an EV.

California will not make a full EV transition without collective actions from the EV market, as well as from local, state, and federal organizations and leaders. It will also need to ensure that the transportation needs of California’s lower-income citizens are met, and not just those of its wealthier residents. Acting now, in 2022, is the surest way for California to meet its 2035 goal.