Román Partida-López

Senior Legal Counsel for Transportation Equity

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Older gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles significantly contribute to air and climate pollution, while also being costly to fuel and maintain. The harmful environmental, health, and economic impacts of aging vehicles disproportionately fall on Latino and Black Californians, lower-income households, and formerly redlined communities, according to a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists and The Greenlining Institute.

California’s emissions regulations on new vehicles will reduce tailpipe pollution as less-polluting vehicles gradually replace older cars and trucks, but additional equity policies and investments are needed now to expedite that shift as well as to fund public transportation and other mobility options. 

The analysis shows that neighborhoods with the highest exposure to fine particulate pollution from older vehicles are all in the southern half of California, mainly in central Los Angeles but also in rural communities. The majority of these highly polluting vehicles are registered in neighborhoods that have a higher percentage of Latino or Black residents, and in those with lower-than-average household income. Communities of color have long been burdened by higher exposure to harmful air pollution due to the legacies of redlining and deliberate government policies that relegated their residents to areas surrounded by busy roads, freeways, ports, and other freight corridors filled with high rates of toxic tailpipe emissions

Based on these findings, UCS and The Greenlining Institute recommend the following changes in state policies and programs-

Key Recommendations: Policies to Reduce Inequitable Exposure to Pollution

  • Prioritize incentives toward priority populations owning old cars. State agencies should make changes to existing incentive programs, such as Clean Cars All and the Clean Vehicle Assistance Program, to prioritize investing in low-income and disadvantaged communities with high concentrations of older cars. By doing so, the state can target high-polluting cars and make better use of limited  funding. Given the high concentration of old-vehicle pollution in Southern California – and particularly in the Los Angeles area – the state should evaluate whether current  incentive programs adequately serve old-car owners in those regions.
  • Target outreach and education to areas with high concentrations of old cars and limited uptake of zero-emissions vehicles. State and local agencies should target their limited outreach and education funds to where it will have the greatest impact. In light of our analysis, state outreach and education must be sensitive to the fact that older-car pollution disproportionately burdens Latino and Black communities. Multilingual and culturally accessible outreach and education are essential, and collaboration with trusted community-based organizations can improve the results. 
  • Provide transportation solutions that go beyond private passenger vehicles. Even as California seeks to reduce vehicle miles traveled, it continues to invest in vehicle incentive programs that prioritize car ownership. Agencies should invest in programs that promote alternative modes of transportation, such as e-bikes, car sharing, and public transportation. One option is to dedicate more funding to the Clean Mobility Options component of Clean Cars 4 All, along with supporting other efforts that use a bottom-up approach and allow communities to define their needs.  Also key are land-use decisions that reduce the need to drive and encourage the use of alternative modes of transportation. This strategy could be particularly successful in the denser, urban hubs of greater Los Angeles where a substantial portion of older-vehicle pollution is concentrated. 
  • Evaluate and adjust incentive programs based on changing conditions in the electric-vehicle market. While California mandates that all new vehicles sold in the state by 2035 be zero-emissions, today’s selection of zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) models is limited. Not many lower-priced ZEV models are available, and even fewer are available in larger-size classes like SUVs and full-size pickup trucks. Despite generally declining prices for electric vehicle components like batteries, the pandemic’s impact on the supply chain has led to price increases for both new and used EVs. California should continue to evaluate and adapt its incentive programs to best assist people based on their needs. While a complete switch to zero-emissions technology will happen in the longer term, the prices and limited supply of electric vehicles can make their purchase difficult in the near term. The state should not discourage owners from switching to other types of cleaner and cheaper-to-fuel vehicles, even those that are not zero-emissions. In rural areas, where alternatives to personal vehicles are less prevalent, California should continue encouraging people to switch to cheaper-to-fuel vehicles, especially drivers and owners of larger-size classes like pickup trucks.

Exposure to harmful air pollution from older vehicles is inequitably distributed

Rural areas have a higher proportion of older vehicles

Román Partida-López

Senior Legal Counsel for Transportation Equity