2020 Not the Time to Put Clean Cars in Reverse

California’s fight against the Trump administration’s plans to roll back commonsense auto emissions and mileage standards may seem surprising to some who live beyond our state’s borders — but only if you ignore that the clean cars bill we passed in 2002 has been, simply put, a major success for California.

 The California Clean Cars Law established the first-ever greenhouse gas emissions standard for all new cars sold in the state. That standard was eventually adopted by 13 other states and became the basis for new national fuel-efficiency standards that spare drivers’ wallets while protecting the climate.

 Automakers dramatically cut the emissions of new vehicles while maintaining their consumer appeal. In 2018, California registered more than 2 million new vehicles, including a record number (about 13 percent) of hybrids and electric vehicles. Including 2019 numbers, there are now more than 655,000 zero-emission vehicles on the roads in California today. The average new passenger car sold in California is now cleaner, reduces climate pollution and saves drivers hundreds of dollars per year at the pump.

The success of the Clean Cars Law has had far-reaching policy consequences, proving to be a model for increasing fuel efficiency across the global auto industry. President Barack Obama worked closely with automakers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation to roll out similar-style vehicle emission standards nationwide that set new fuel-efficiency standards equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon.

The automobile industry, which faced the burdensome and costly prospect of manufacturing two different sets of vehicles — one for California and the 13 other states that adopted our carbon pollution standards and one for every other state in the country –welcomed having a unified, national standard.

Reducing carbon emissions from vehicle tailpipes remains one of the most significant achievements in the fight against climate change. It has improved air quality, saved consumers money to spend elsewhere in the economy and created hundreds of thousands of jobs — many in economically stressed industries and regions.

Thanks in part to the stronger emission standards, more than 486,000 Americans work making parts for more fuel-efficient vehicles, and an additional 250,000 are employed designing and manufacturing clean vehicles like hybrids and zero-emission vehicles, according to the Clean Jobs America report from the business group E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs).

If successful, the recent efforts by the Trump administration and some automakers to roll back the standards would take American auto innovation and global competitiveness backwards.

The Clean Cars Law was groundbreaking. More than a decade and a half later, we know it led to enormous benefits for our air, the climate and for consumers. That’s why many other automakers including Ford, Volkswagen, BMW and Honda are still standing by the stronger standards. Thankfully, some in Congress are aiming to advance that original agreement, even in the face of this attack.

There’s no turning back the clock on the progress we’ve made and continue to make — even if that’s what the president and the fossil fuel industry want. We’re ready to fight for California’s climate and economic leadership — and just like we did 18 years ago, we are going to win.


Fran Pavley served in the California State Assembly from 2000-06 and as a state senator from 2008-16, and she is the environmental policy director for the USC Schwarzenegger Institute.

Nicole Lederer is co-founder and chair of E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), a national, nonpartisan organization of business leaders that advocates for policies that are good for the economy and good for the environment.

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