A driver prepares to charge a General Motors Bolt EV. Photo courtesy GM

The political battles in Congress over the size of an infrastructure package that will accelerate our transition to a greener economy and zero-emission transportation future do not reflect the urgency needed to ensure that all San Diegans can benefit from increased adoption of electric vehicles.

Fortunately, California can take action without waiting on Congress. Senate Bill 551 is a bill making its way through the legislature that would establish a statewide Electric Vehicle Authority to lead the transition toward zero-emissions transportation.

If approved, it would be an essential step in making sure all San Diegans, including those in communities of concern, have access to the latest EVs and the charging infrastructure that supports those vehicles. It would also reinforce California’s leadership — and responsibility — in building the roadmap for the green future that our communities want and deserve. 

Electric vehicles not only reduce emissions, they also provide new and affordable ways for San Diegans to move about the region. SB 551 gives California the teeth it needs to turn its vision of a cleaner future into reality.

In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom set an ambitious goal to end the sale of gasoline-powered cars by 2035 and trucks by 2045. The governor will soon sign a budget that will include more than $3 billion for zero-emissions transportation. With SB 551, the state legislature has a chance to make sure those resources are efficiently spent, and provide the focus needed to leverage private sector investments and prioritize benefits for communities that bear the brunt from vehicle pollution. 

The shift to electric is about more than just deploying the latest technology. For many of our communities, it’s a matter of life or death. Transportation is responsible for almost half of the state’s carbon emissions, and the reason so many of our children breathe unhealthy air. Neighborhoods in our region have some of California’s worst air pollution.

The pandemic has made it clear that weakened lungs and the chronic health issues that result from environmental injustices can prematurely end people’s lives. We also know that when it comes to climate change, already vulnerable communities are hit first and worst. Numerous rigorously-researched reports and acclaimed scientists have made it clear that there is no time to waste in reducing our carbon footprint.

California has already demonstrated that it can pave the way. The state’s clean air standards have long pushed vehicle makers toward fuel efficiency and we have more zero-emission cars and trucks on our roads than any other state in the nation. While carmakers made recent announcements of plans to go electric around the start of the new Biden-Harris administration, California can certainly take credit for prodding the industry to get to that point.

But we are nowhere near mission accomplished. We need a whole-of-government approach led by an EV Authority with executive powers that can leverage state and federal investments to incentivize fleets, shipping industries, and drivers to give up gas.

A clean energy transition is also a jobs plan, with the possibility of more in-state manufacturing, battery production, and EV service jobs to build the new infrastructure that is needed. A recent Advanced Energy Economy report shows that California’s electric transportation related workforce will nearly double by 2024. Ensuring those jobs go to communities that need them the most requires that someone be responsible for prioritizing equitable outcomes.

It also means our communities of concern can hold someone accountable to ensure they have the same access to the EVs, charging infrastructure and subsequent air quality improvements that other communities have enjoyed. By approving SB 551, California leaders will make it clear that they understand that accelerating a zero-emissions future should be beneficial to everyone.

In our roles as a cleantech business association and community advocates, we understand that innovation and environmental health should be accessible to all communities. SB 551 is a chance for California to take the leadership role in tackling the challenges of the 21st century, while making sure no community is left behind in the road to the future.

Jason Anderson is president and CEO of Cleantech San Diego. Eddie Price is the founder and executive director of the San Diego Urban Sustainability Coalition.

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