Capitol Weekly
By Bill Magavern

If you’ve ever been behind the wheel of an electric vehicle, you know that they’re really fun to drive. Many Californians have discovered the joys of electric drive, as our state is nearing 200,000 plug-in vehicles sold, and accounted for more than half of all the EVs sold in the US last year.

But we need to ramp up sales of these advanced technology vehicles in order to clean up our air, reduce our dangerous dependency on petroleum, and stabilize the climate. Fortunately, incentive funds are available, and more help arrives on March 29th for low and moderate-income Californians interested in purchasing electric cars.

Low-income drivers in the South Coast and San Joaquin air districts can receive up to $9500 when they scrap old, high-polluting vehicles.

For people of modest means in the market for a new electric car, rebate amounts will now be increased by $1,500 for consumers with household incomes less than or equal to 300 percent of the federal poverty level.  These increased rebate amounts are offered by the Air Resources Board for buyers of fuel-cell electric vehicles, battery electric vehicles, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

As this added incentive recognizes, zero-emission vehicles are not just for Tesla owners in Marin and Malibu; they’re also for working people, students and retirees in Stockton and South Gate and communities all over the state. That’s why we at the Coalition for Clean Air joined with our partners – Communities for a Better Environment, Environment CA, Greenlining Institute, and Natural Resources Defense Council — to start the Charge Ahead California campaign.

Two years ago the Legislature passed, and Governor Brown signed, Sen. Kevin de León’s Charge Ahead bill (SB 1275), which now is providing clean transportation choices to communities that have suffered the worst damage from pollution and disinvestment. Low-income drivers in the South Coast and San Joaquin air districts can receive up to $9500 when they scrap old, high-polluting vehicles and replace them with newer, cleaner models that use advanced technologies –conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids, or fully electric engines. Being able to afford a safe and reliable car that also reduces fuel and maintenance costs can transform the lives of hard-working Californians.

Other Charge Ahead programs will bring financing assistance to low-income consumers seeking to purchase clean vehicles and inaugurate clean-vehicle car-sharing programs in disadvantaged neighborhoods in Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento. The money for these programs comes from charges paid by the state’s biggest polluters under California’s cap on emissions of greenhouse gases.

Our campaign also helps to spread the word about electric-vehicle options to communities that had previously been left out of those choices. For example, Coalition for Clean Air and Communities for a Better Environment organized anElectric Vehicle Ride and Drive” in Wilmington on January 30th to bring awareness about zero-emission vehicles (both the battery and fuel-cell varieties) to a low-income and mainly Latino community in Los Angeles that is disproportionately impacted by air pollution from the nearby refineries and ports.

Policymakers can continue the progress. Opportunities to buy used EVs should be expanded beyond the South Coast and San Joaquin air districts, and should be available to those, like first-time car buyers, who do not have older vehicles to scrap. The Air Resources Board plans to expand its scrappage-and-replacement, financing, and car-sharing programs for low-income drivers when funding is available, so it’s up to the Legislature to provide the funds in the 2016-’17 budget.