For three decades, California has led the fight to control tailpipe pollution, with uncountable policies promoting cleaner fuel, carpooling, public transport and its signature plan – the electric car.
Californians now purchase more than half of all EVs sold in the United States, and the state’s auto-pollution policies have provided a model being adopted around the world.
“The strategies that we’ve used up until now just haven’t been effective,” Mary Nichols, the head of the California Air Resources Board, told Reuters.
That failure has less to do with vitality or ecological policies and more with decades-old city planning decisions that made California – and particularly Los Angeles – a refuge for extensive growth of single-family homes and long commutes, according to government officers.
California’s struggle bodes inadequately for other major U.S. towns with similar spread and exclusive urban housing – such as Houston, Atlanta, and others that planned their towns around vehicles – and cast doubt on whether the United States can meet its promised carbon cuts under a global consent to fight climate change.
The country’s troubles also hold lessons for huge economies including China and India, major carbon eliminates that expect to control pollution from vehicles as they quickly urbanize.
As the state struggles to change its own vehicle pollution, California administrators are also fighting an effort by the government of U.S. President Donald Trump to wither national standards for vehicle emissions. A spokesperson for recently-elected Governor Gavin Newsom, who ran on a pledge to continue California’s legacy of climate action, did not return requests for statement.
The United States has promised to cut carbon emissions between 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 under the Paris Treaty, a global agreement to fight climate change reached by almost 200 nations in 2015.
While President Donald Trump has signaled his aim to pull the United States out of the accord, a group of countries led by California wants to make sure the U.S. meets its pledges, which scientists call critical to avoiding the most shocking results of climate change.
In Houston, for example, tailpipe emissions have climbed 46 percent, posing a major challenge for the city’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
Unlike California, Texas has no statewide greenhouse-gas reduction aims, and the state’s love affair with gas-guzzling cars is only expanding.
Other parts of the world could have an easier time.
In Europe, citizens of densely populated towns face lofty gasoline taxes, encouraging lessened car travel. Several European towns have seen relatively high levels of electric vehicle adoption.
And in China and India, which also have high electric car targets, major cities are still being erected – with pollution control in mind.
“They are much better able to bake in this kind of planning into their urban designs,” said John German, a senior fellow with the non-profit International Council on Clean Transportation.
China is also attempting to develop fuel standards, ban old vehicles, and stop diesel trucks from entering certain regions as vehicle ownership surges by around 20 million vehicles every year.
California officers, eager to keep the state’s leadership role on climate action, hope to cover the way for a fix to entrenched city sprawl.
Los Angeles is mulling a suggestion to charge drivers in rush hour and use that money to make public transportation free by 2028, according to Metro Chief Executive Phillip Washington.
Other choices include waiving fees for pooled rides to and from airports and adding security lanes for scooters and bikes, said Dan Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.
CARB Deputy Executive Officer Kurt Karperos said the state is planning talks with municipal administrations to discuss controlling emissions through city planning.
Such efforts could include lower-cost housing in city centers to bring people closer to work, and the elimination of construction codes needing parking spaces to encourage more drop-off carpooling, according to experts.
“It is a tough problem,” Karperos said.
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