California Budget Approves Historic Clean Transportation Investments

Environment

Originally published on NRDC Expert Blog.
By Miles Muller, Attorney, Climate & Clean Energy Program

State legislators and Governor Newsom just signed a historic California budget that includes unprecedented levels of investment in clean transportation. The new funding will provide significant support for critical zero-emission vehicle and infrastructure programs, unlocking billions in public health, climate, and jobs benefits for all Californians.

This budget comes as the result of months of significant advocacy by a coalition of more than fifty climate, equity, health, and labor organizations to expand investments in California’s most effective programs for clean air, improved health, environmental justice, and a stable climate. The final budget includes more than $3.5 billion for zero-emission vehicles and infrastructure, including:

  • $1.4 billion for electrifying medium- and heavy-duty vehicles on California roads to clean the air, including 3,000 zero-emission drayage trucks, school buses, and transit buses;
  • $415 million to deploy the necessary charging infrastructure for those medium- and heavy-duty vehicles;
  • $400 million for equity-focused transportation projects like Clean Cars 4 All, which enables low-income Californians to scrap their old car and replace it with a new or used option that is less polluting and more efficient;
  • $500 million for the California Energy Commission’s (CEC) Clean Transportation Program deploying charging infrastructure for light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles;
  • $525 million for consumer rebates for new ZEV purchases through the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project; and
  • $250 million for zero-emission manufacturing.

This money is on top of the budget’s $5.4 billion Transportation Infrastructure Plan, which includes $500 million for active transportation in addition to funding for improving the state’s streets, roads, and rails.

Securing an Equitable Clean Transportation Future in CA

Moving forward, the Legislature needs to strengthen the state’s commitment to equity to ensure all Californians have access to clean transportation. Fortunately, the Legislature has an opportunity to do exactly that with two policy bills this year — SB 726 (L. Gonzalez) and AB 1389 (Reyes) — that would codify equity requirements for the CEC’s Clean Transportation Program and require that 50% of those investments go towards the primary benefit of people residing in low-income and disadvantaged communities. The Legislature should advance these bills to ensure even greater investment in California’s equitable clean transportation future.

Thanks in large part to the Charge Ahead California Initiative — established by Senate Bill 1275 in 2014, making it state policy to electrify the transportation sector in a manner that ensures all Californians are able to realize the benefits electric vehicles can provide — California already has a rich portfolio of well-utilized equity-focused programs designed to increase access to zero-emission vehicles and mobility in disadvantaged and low-income communities. These programs are complemented by critical zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicle programs that displace toxic diesel emissions that disproportionately impact low-income and disadvantaged communities that often live near freeways, ports, railyards, warehouses and other facilities.

These programs have done a lot to accelerate electric vehicle adoption in the state, especially in low-income and underserved communities, but there’s still a ways to go to meet the state’s long-term climate, equity, and air quality goals. According to a recent CEC report, the state is currently falling behind on its goal of deploying the 250,000 public and shared charging stations needed to support estimated EV adoption in 2025, and faces a gap of roughly one million chargers from what will be needed to support its 2035 goals. The report concludes that significant and continued state, local, utility, and private funding will be necessary to meet these goals.

California Energy Commission, Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Assessment

The 2021–2022 budget will go a long way in putting the state on a path to achieving its goals, but more still needs to be done going forward to fund critical equity programs and help underserved communities realize the benefits of clean mobility. While advocates had been pushing for $500 million in guaranteed funding for these critical transportation equity programs, only $150 million of the budget’s $400 million package is guaranteed, and the rest will have to be authorized by the Legislature in future years.


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