Cleaner cars, lower prices

Sacramento councilman says infrastructure isn’t in place to fully take advantage of low-emission rebate program

This version has been extended from its print edition.

A new program in Sacramento called Clean Cars 4 All could provide low-income residents with $9,500 toward the purchase of low-emission vehicles in exchange for their old gas-guzzling cars. But more could be needed for the program to thrive in Sacramento.

“We are nowhere close to the infrastructure that we need,” Councilman Eric Guerra said Aug. 8, while waiting to highlight the program at a Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District event in South Sacramento.

The statewide program follows Volkswagen’s 2015 admission that it installed emission defeat devices on almost 600,000 vehicles. VW agreed to put $1.2 billion toward repairing the damage, with most going toward “zero-emission vehicle projects,” according to the California Air Resources Board website. The city of Sacramento received $44 million from the settlement.

The new program will help single mother Victoria Robertson ditch her 2003 Chevrolet Cavalier for a used Nissan Leaf, Kia Soul or hybrid Hyundai. She noted, though, that her Mack Road affordable housing complex has no charging station. “It’d be awesome if, in my apartments and probably other low-income restricted [housing], that they could put charging stations in here,” Robertson said.

Rep. Doris Matsui wants more charging stations and other infrastructure as well.

“We’re looking at electric vehicles, we’re looking at autonomous vehicles, we’re looking at all these aspects of technology that will be helpful in order to get people out of cars,” Matsui told SN&R.

The fight goes beyond Sacramento, though.

In February, Matsui introduced the Clean and Efficient Cars Act of 2019 to “preserve fuel economy and vehicle emissions standards that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save drivers money at the pump.” This came after efforts by the Trump administration to abandon Obama-era plans to achieve 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 and freeze standards at 37 MPG.

“Trump talked with me, ‘Oh you know, we just want to harmonize everything not in line,’” Matsui said, imitating Trump’s accent. “I said, ‘No, what you want to do is kill the standards.’”

In late July, the California Air Resources Board and automakers including BMW, Ford, Honda and VW circumvented Trump, agreeing to average 50 MPG by 2026, according to Matsui’s website.

Programs such as Clean Cars 4 All could also help the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s work to reduce the region’s carbon footprint, said board member Gregg Fishman. Fishman also sees electric cars making better use of SMUD’s occasional surpluses of power and even putting power back into the electric grid when needed.

“That makes our infrastructure a lot more efficient and effective,” Fishman told SN&R.