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Clean Car Bill Hurts Fleets

May 2007, by - Also by this author

There is a bill afoot in the California assembly that if passed could directly affect the pocketbooks of many companies with fleets. The Clean Car Discount Bill (AB 493) proposes to incentivize a market shift to low-emissions vehicles in California by providing one-time rebates for car buyers of low-emissions vehicles in California while penalizing those that buy “gas guzzlers.”

The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, bases the level of rebates and surcharges (ranging from $100 to $2,500) on state calculations of carbon emissions. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a main backer of the bill, estimates the average rebate or surcharge will likely fall somewhere between $900 and $1,450.

Many vehicles will fall into a “zero-band,” receiving neither a surcharge nor rebate. If passed, the law would take affect July 1, 2010, on the sale or lease of all new 2011 model year vehicles and each model year thereafter.

Under this legislation and current emissions rules, buyers of a Ford F-150 would incur a $1,922 surcharge, and a Chevy Express van would be docked $2,121. (They based their calculations on 2002 models, for some reason.)

Hold on, there are some major exemptions: diesel-powered vehicles, vehicles for the disabled, emergency vehicles, vehicles registered for state business and those used for agriculture. And “microbusinesses” are exempt. In California, microbusiness is defined as a business with average annual gross receipts (revenue) of $2.75 million. Thus most plumbers, landscapers and contractors are exempt. {+PAGEBREAK+}

But the companies outside of these exemptions—and there are many—would pay $1,957 extra for each new Toyota Tundra they put into fleet. I’m not a fan of consumers who buy big honkin’ SUVs for the bling factor or to be Lord of the Freeway. In this burgeoning Green Era, it’s irresponsible to spew more CO2 than necessary.

But let’s forget about the Hummer H2 and Dodge Viper driver for a moment. Simply put, the bill penalizes businesses for doing their job. We won’t be seeing a contractor loading bricks into the back of a Prius any time soon. The bill also does not address actual miles driven.

Just because a truck or SUV may have a lower miles-per-gallon rating than a smaller vehicle doesn’t mean that it will emit more greenhouse gases – it all depends on how much a vehicle is driven. A more direct attack on the cause would be a higher gasoline tax—which would never fly. “Penalize the guzzlers” is a much more potent rallying cry.

My renegade Left Coast state has traditionally been out in front of the nation in terms of environmental initiatives. In 2002 we passed AB 1493, which mandates the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources such as cars and light-duty trucks.

The Global Warming Solutions Act, passed in 2006, requires an overall 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in California by 2020. On the federal level, the Bush administration has endorsed raising fuel economy standards by an average of 4 percent annually beginning in September 2009 to 35 miles-per-gallon by 2020. Sky-high gas prices are incentive enough.

Do we really need this additional penalty? On its Web site, the UCS claims that 60 percent of likely voters support surcharges and rebates to promote clean cars. However, the bill needs to pass both Houses in the state legislature and opposition from pretty substantial lobbying groups is mounting.

Ruskin introduced a similar bill last year that was defeated, and Governor Schwarzenegger has yet to take a position on the bill. The bottom line? There is a hodge-podge of legislation aimed at cleaning up our environment, much of it contradictory and badly written.

This one may not pass, but it won’t be the last bill that takes aim at fleets unfairly. And it’s not just a California thing. As California goes environmentally, so goes many states in the Union.

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