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Op-Ed: Mandate to cut gasoline use would cripple California's economy

This article appeared in OC Register on August 15, 2015

Friends tend to make fun of my car. Granted, it is dented, scratched and old. But in my house, we tend to buy our cars, pay them off and then drive them until they fall apart.

So imagine my surprise when I was sitting in a California state Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee hearing on Senate Bill 350 and heard a legislator pontificate that if every Californian would just make it their business to drive a Fiat hybrid, the “greenhouse gas problem” would be solved. Apparently, the lease payments are “only around $197,” a payment that “every Californian should be able to afford.”

And we wonder how those who have been elected to represent us can make laws so out of line with any reasonable thought.

SB350 is one of those bills, and it is flying through the state Legislature, passing every committee it comes before. SB350 proposes a mandate that Californians reduce their use of gasoline and diesel by 50 percent in the next 15 years. There is no possible way this arbitrary mandate can be met without having a devastating impact on the economy of California and the lives of Californians up and down the state.

But the worst part of SB350 isn’t even the mandate. It is the fact that the bill is silent on how we will be able to achieve the reduction. It literally hands all decision making power over to the California Air Resources Board, an unelected regulatory body. The fact that the bill’s authors, state Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, and Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, don’t want any responsibility for the consequences of this bill is telling. There were several legislators that spoke against this particular requirement, and then turned around and voted for it anyway. SB350 gives CARB a blank check to create regulations, standards and specifications that will cut our use of fuel by 50 percent.

Californians drive 32 million vehicles – almost 3 million in Orange County alone – and use over 40 million gallons of gas and diesel each day. Orange County drivers use an estimated 1.5 billion gallons of gas and diesel annually. Taxpayers and businesses rely on petroleum fuel everyday for their basic transportation needs. Add to that the fact that the Department of Transportation estimates that California’s population is expected to hit 48 million by 2040, and one has to wonder how we are going to manage having our fuel consumption limited to half the amount currently available.

But what about all those Fiat Hybrids we should be driving? According to data from the California Drivers Alliance, there are only about 120,000 electric vehicles on the road. It would take 13 million new electric vehicles to replace 50 percent of the gas and diesel cars we now drive. The taxpayers already have subsidized the purchase of 59,000 electric cars over the last few years, to the tune of $125 million dollars. The billions of dollars that would be needed to purchase 13 million electric cars is mind-boggling. And they would have to be subsidized. Even Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne doesn’t like the fact that he is mandated to sell them. “I hope you don’t buy it because every time I sell one it cost me $14,000,” he told a group attending a conference at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “I’m honest enough to tell you that.”

CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols clearly has an agenda. According to Bloomberg Business, “It becomes clear that Nichols, at age 70, is pushing regulations today that could by midcentury all but banish the internal combustion engine from California’s famous highways.” In an interview just a few months ago Nichols stated, “If we’re going to get our transportation system off petroleum, we’ve got to get people used to a zero-emissions world, not just a little-bit-better version of the world they have now.”

As someone who grew up in California, I appreciate the difference in our air quality compared to 50 years ago. But continuing this progress with sensible alternatives that support the growth of the California economy and are not punitive to the taxpayer is what is needed.

Carolyn Cavecche is CEO and president of the Orange County Taxpayers Association.

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