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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Trump Plans To Rollback Vehicle Emissions Standards, San Diego Congressman Has Another Idea

 June 13, 2019 at 10:58 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Climate activists are roiling at the Trump administration's plans to roll back vehicle mileage standards. To give you perspective, the EPA says transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the country. More than half of that comes from gas fueled cars as SUVs, trucks and minivans. Now the California air resources board is vowing to stand firm on the state's tougher emission standards. Stanley young as the communications director with the California Air Resources Board as part of coverage from the KPBS climate change desk. He joined me to talk about how this could impact drivers in California. Stanley, thanks so much for joining us. Pleasure. The White House says it will move forward with efforts to relax federal auto emission standards and fuel economy regulations despite pleas from the auto industry to negotiate those standards with California. What is your reaction to that? Speaker 2: 00:55 Well, we're disappointed we would definitely like a, a one national program, a program that includes both California and the 13 states that follow our rules and all the other states. Uh, uh, we just think that this is a moving backwards from every possible perspective Speaker 1: 01:14 under the Federal Clean Air Act. The state has the authority to enact stricter vehicle emissions rules. Will the board now move in that direction? Speaker 2: 01:23 Well, we're going to continue with the standards that we have now, so we're not going to enact new standards. We're just going to keep moving forward with the standards that are in place. Uh, the federal, uh, proposal, the federal rule would role those standards back. Speaker 1: 01:41 And I've heard talk of banning internal combustion engines and cars burning petroleum based fuels. Um, is that something that would happen here in California? Speaker 2: 01:50 I think that the right way to approach this is what we need is more zero emission vehicles and our focus is on ensuring that the fleet that is all the vehicles and cars transforms quickly as possible so that they don't emit any pollution. Speaker 1: 02:09 So where do we stand then in terms of negotiating at this point? Speaker 2: 02:14 Well, we're not negotiating. We've made it clear to the federal government that, uh, w we are willing to have areas of compromise, but they've simply slammed the door in our face. Speaker 1: 02:25 And what type of regulatory adjustments do you think would provide the flexibility needed to meet future environmental goals and meet consumer needs? Automakers have even asked for, Speaker 2: 02:36 right? Well, you know, we've, we've discussed the possibility of talking about they're fairly, um, technical elements like credits for instance, how many credits you get for zero emission vehicles or plugin vehicles. So there are areas of flexibility that we could, uh, have entertained. But as I mentioned, uh, despite the fact the autos are saying that this is a bad idea, the White House is simply not interested in negotiating with anyone on this. Speaker 1: 03:07 What is the consequence in California and across the country? If you missions and fuel economy standards are relaxed? Speaker 2: 03:14 Well that would produce massive uncertainty in the automobile industry. Uh, you know, the automobile industry is always living four to five years ahead of itself because that's the time range that they need for their planning and their manufacturing. The federal rollback is going to affect cars in 2020. That's just round the corner and they don't know right now what the standards are going to be that they're going to have to meet. So this just royals, the water for, uh, the planners and the entire American automobile industry. Speaker 1: 03:53 So it throws the automobile industry. I'm in turmoil, but I want to get back also to how this could impact consumers. You mentioned congestion fees, what other things could be implemented in order to try to meet environmental goals? Speaker 2: 04:06 If this rollback goes into effect, then that means that the cars will be less fuel efficient. Consumers will be paying more at the pump for these less efficient cars. So this hits consumers directly in the pocket book. This is like a mystery to us why the federal government would be supporting cars that use more fuel. Speaker 1: 04:31 In what ways would California work to meet environmental goals and the event that, that the White House does roll back these regulations? Speaker 2: 04:39 Well, what we do, uh, like I said, is that we would go to court to ensure that we are able to continue with these standards that produce cleaner cars, help clean the air and, and fight climate change. That's the course that we're on. Speaker 1: 04:53 That was Stanley Young, the communications director with the California Air Resources Board for more on climate change and transportation. Here's KPBS round table host Mark Sauer, Speaker 3: 05:04 California's among states leading the way on efforts to combat climate change. Now Democratic Congressman Michael Levin has introduced national legislation to phase out gas burning vehicles. His proposal was sharply criticized and an op Ed by Republican Bill Wells, the mayor of El Cahone wells was filed paperwork to run against embattled Congressman Duncan Hunter in the 50th district. I spoke with both 11 and wells about climate change and transportation. First Congressman Mike Levin via Skype. Mike Levin, thanks for joining us. Thank you for having me. We'll start by explaining why you think we are in a crisis regarding manmade climate change. Well, Speaker 4: 05:43 I'm an environmental attorney by background. I've been involved in the clean energy industry for the last 15 plus years and uh, I, uh, like so many others, uh, actually believe in science and, uh, no. Uh, uh, our climate is changing and if we don't take bold, dramatic steps to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint and we're going to suffer the consequences and look no further for the experts on the issue. Uh, then, uh, right. Uh, in San Diego at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography where they've studied the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for many years, and they know that it is now 415 parts per million the most that we've ever recorded in human history. Uh, which is why we've got to take bold steps to reduce those emissions. Transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, makes up about 39% in California, which is why we've got to change the, the way that we move people and goods around. Speaker 4: 06:40 Uh, in addition, we've also got to look at the way we build buildings in the way we generate electricity. Uh, and the good news is we're already doing all of those things in California. And my hope is that we can take a lot of the lessons learned and the leadership that we've exhibited in California. And we can replicate it to on the federal level. Uh, you know, we already, uh, have a bold strategy around electric vehicles in California and it's working. And you introduced your bill along with a Democratic Senator, Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Uh, what does it specifically call for? Well, the bill would require that by 2030, a 50% of sales for new passenger vehicles be zero emission vehicles. That could be a battery electric vehicle. Uh, it could be a fuel cell electric vehicle, uh, that would ramp up 5% per year. And we're already doing most of this in California. Speaker 4: 07:32 You know, we already have a 20, 25 target of a million and a half evs, and then that dramatically it goes to 5 million evs by 2030. We're also in the process in California of going from the roughly 14,000 electric vehicle charging stations we have today, all the way to 250,000, uh, Evie charging stations by 2025. So we're already doing the work in California, uh, in many of the auto makers have said that this is the direction they intend to go. You probably saw that they reject the Trump administration's a desire to roll back emission standards. Uh, the folks in the auto industry that I speak with on a regular basis, they want certainty and stability. They want to understand that we're all working towards a path to reduce the greenhouse gas footprint and improve the efficiency of automobiles. And they're onboard. And, and transitioning to zero emission vehicles won't only help us combat climate change. Speaker 4: 08:29 It will also improve public health and very significantly, it will create great jobs. All right. And finally on this subject, critics say the government should not be picking winners through subsidies. Your response, well, in California, we've already seen that if you take bold steps to set targets, uh, and to, uh, help nurture along, uh, innovative native technologies such as electric vehicles, that you actually have a great outcome from those, uh, from those types of activities. So when you think about, uh, what we've done again in California, you know, going back 15 years, I've heard naysayers straight through, and this goes back even further when you think about growing up in southern California's, I'm sure many of your audience a did, is I did a, we used to have the smog alerts all the time. Uh, and there were many naysayers saying, well, if you want to cut air pollution, it's going to harm the economy. It's going to hurt industry and it's going to create, uh, economic, uh, harm. But in fact, exactly the opposite happen. Uh, we took bold steps. Uh, we reduced our, uh, pollutants from, from cars, uh, from, uh, industry and exactly the opposite has occurred. We've had bold, uh, uh, climate policies. At the same time, we've had robust economic growth, uh, in just like the naysayers were wrong about air pollution and I believe they're wrong about greenhouse gas emissions. Speaker 3: 09:48 All right. And before ramping up, I have a question on a different topic. What's your reaction to the news that Congressman Duncan Hunter's wife Margaret pleaded guilty in federal court today to one charge of miss using campaign funds along with her husband? Speaker 4: 10:02 Well, obviously I'm following the, uh, ongoing court case just like everyone else in the region. Uh, I can only say that we take our responsibilities very seriously as member members of Congress to ensure that we're using campaign funds properly and we're using official funds properly. Uh, there's some very bright line rules that we cannot cross. Uh, and uh, you know, ultimately, uh, those of us that are so honored to serve, uh, we do all we can to try to, uh, abide by those rules, uh, to protect the public trust and the confidence in our institutions. So, uh, I'll be, uh, looking, uh, just as I'm sure you will too. Uh, the ongoing case, uh, to see what happens. Uh, I have endorsed a Amar camp in a jar in that district. I think you would do a fine job as the next representative for the 50th district. Speaker 3: 10:51 Right. I had been speaking with Democratic Congressman Mike Levin. Thanks very much for joining us. You got it. Thank you. Joining me now as El Cahone mayor bill wells, welcome. Thanks. Well, you wrote an op Ed in the Union Tribune challenging representative Levins legislation to eliminate combustion engine vehicles in California by 2040 and you make several points now. One is the gas burning cars and trucks today are far cleaner than 50 years ago and the zero emission cars really aren't that much cleaner. Explain that. Where'd you get that information? Well, I got that information through research. In fact, I cited all in the op Ed that I wrote. I was actually surprised to find out that the [inaudible] 68 Mustang that I drove when I was at high school I, it was about 99% more dirty than a modern car. So they say that modern cars have about 1% of the admissions that cars in the sixties and seventies had them. Speaker 3: 11:44 And some of the folks who study this say that that's true, but they don't have much up end beyond that because they've made such progress as you note here since sixties whereas electric cars and Evie and low emission vehicles are just starting out, so they are efficiency. We'll have a a great higher end on that. That's what some of the, uh, the observers say. Yes. You also know that electric vehicles are so expensive that only middle and upper income people can afford them. But the Chevy bolt costs less than half of the top end Teslas and GM and Ford and other auto makers. They've got plans to vastly expand their lines in coming years for, for electric vehicle models. Doesn't it make sense of the competition? We'll drop those prices? I think so. I think, and that's the really, the whole point of my article was not that I'm against zero emission cars. Speaker 3: 12:30 I think that's a great idea. But what I'm against is the government getting involved in picking winners and losers. You know, the free market has worked for America in a way that no other country has seen such results. I believe in the free market. I think we should keep it and I, I don't like the concept of the government getting involved in making a market trans artificial because they, artificial market trends have a tendency to collapse and we can be in a situation where we're, the poor will drive cars based upon subsidies. The rich won't care, they'll pay the price and the middle class will find it very difficult to, to own an operate cars. All right, well just picking up on that point here, I wanted to get into the specifics. You will criticize in your op Ed, the Democratic Congressman and 11 of the 49th district for pushing legislation to mandate 50% zero emission vehicles by 2030 and a hundred percent zero emission by 2040 and you're opposed to that and it gets to this picking winners appoint you're making. Speaker 3: 13:26 Well that's part of it. You know, apartments, the economics part of it is just, I think it's an overreaction. Um, you know, the, there's a government agency, they cited the, in the, in the article that said, even if all the zero emission cars that are training will come to pass, we're only going to see one half of 1% of reduction in emissions. And you know, to me that's a lot of, of ado about nothing. I mean, you've got the government spending millions and millions and millions of dollars on subsidies. And by the way, I'm not even talking about how much it costs to subsidize the charging stations, which could be in the trillions of dollars. You know, the, the government is putting us in a situation where we could actually bankrupt several states and bankrupt individuals as a result of this. For what to get half of a percent of emissions gain a, and then you're not even talking about the emissions than it costs to produce the batteries and to produce cars themselves. Speaker 3: 14:18 Well, a couple of points on that. Uh, one of the links in your op Ed is to Jonathan Lesser. I was in political, he wrote a, uh, a piece there, uh, that he also wrote for about a report in the Manhattan Institute. That's a think tank that's taken millions from the oil and gas industry in the Koch brothers, and he's a longtime climate change denier. Uh, what's your stance on climate change? You know, I, I don't really know what's happening with climate change. I think that, that it, it's obvious that there is a change in changing the climate, that that is hotter right now. But I also know that, uh, that these cycles have been around, uh, as long as the earth has been around. Okay. What about manmade? The, uh, the, uh, you know, to me, to me, I feel like I'm pretty objective about this. I, I know people get really worked up about this. Speaker 3: 15:02 The, the manmade stuff I'm looking at for every article that I read that says that there's manmade climate change and there's a lot, there's a lot of articles that say that, that it's all a hoax. Uh, one of the question on this point, uh, there was a scientific report, the mandated by Congress, 13 federal agencies in November laid out the devastating cost and effects of climate change on the economy. Don't we really need to stop burning fossil fuel as soon as possible? Oh, I think that that's going to be a natural natural evolution. If we could have cars that, that you put water into the why not? I mean that, that, that's a fantastic thing. I have no problem with moving forward in that regard. And I think the market usually drives things in the direction of what's best for people because people have a conscience. Speaker 3: 15:51 People want, people want the air to be clean, they want the water to be clean. I certainly do. Before wrapping up, I have a question on a different topic. What's your reaction to news that Congressman Duncan Hunter's wife Margaret changed her not guilty plea in federal court today to charges along with her husband of misusing campaign funds? Well, certainly very interesting to me. I, as you know, I ran for Congress last year. I'm running for Congress again this year. In the 50th district against tuck hunter. Um, I, I, I think that this is something everybody's watching very closely. It's been an embarrassment for the district and I'm hoping that this a nightmare will be over soon. I've been speaking with El Cahone mayor bill wells, thanks very much for joining us. Thank you. I had a good time and that was round table host Mark Sauer as part of coverage from the KPBS climate change desk.

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Democratic Rep. Mike Levin, whose district includes northern San Diego County, has introduced legislation to phase out gas-burning vehicles entirely in California by 2040.
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