BY KATIE BABSON
Washington state legislature has passed a bill titled Clean Cars 2030. This bill seeks to set a goal requiring all light-duty vehicles with a model date of 2030 or later to be electric. This makes Washington state the first US state to pass legislation banning gas cars and is the earliest gas car ban in the US. As climate change ravishes the world, governments have been criticized for their inaction, often choosing to do little in addressing and mitigating this increasingly worrisome issue. Currently, a massive contributor to greenhouse gasses and air pollution are motor vehicles. In Washington state, according to Section 1 of Senate Bill 1287, the transportation sector accounts for nearly one-half of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state, and on-road vehicle emissions are responsible for the vast majority of these emissions. In an effort to decrease overall state emissions, the widespread adoption of zero emissions vehicles is absolutely essential.
In recognizing the immediate need to reduce emissions, the Washington state legislature passed Senate Bill 1287, alternatively titled “Clean Cars 2030”. The Clean Cars 2030 bill seeks to require all light-duty vehicles, with a model date of 2030 or later, to be electric. This bill passed is part of a larger proposition directing utilities to prepare for statewide all-electric transportation Additionally, the Clean Cars 2030 bill also requires the Washington State’s Department of Ecology to map and plan for electric vehicle infrastructure. As a result, this bill makes Washington state the first US state to pass legislation banning gas cars, as opposed to only executive orders issued. It is the earliest gas car ban in the US, with California and Massachusetts also planning to implement gas car bans by 2035.
According to a clause in the bill, the ban will not go into effect until 75% of vehicles in Washington state are subjected to a road usage charge (RUC). This serves as an alternative to the gasoline tax, instead charging drivers per mile rather than at the pump. The Washington State Transportation Commissions has also noted in Volume 2 of the RUC Assessment Final Report that such a RUC is indeed a feasible alternative and would financially outperform the current gas tax system. However, there is valid concern as to how this will impact students with long commute times, low-income households, and rural drivers. Robert D. Atkinson, in his essay “A Policymaker’s Guide to Road User Charges”, argues that shifting to an RUC system would mean lower-income households would pay less than they currently do under a gas tax. Additionally, Atkinson demonstrates that with a revenue neutral RUC system fee, higher-income households had a larger increase in annual costs, while lower-income groups saved money. As for rural drivers, such drivers already pay more money under a gasoline tax than urban drivers, which would not change under an RUC system. But, when considering that rural drivers tend to drive older, less fuel-efficient vehicles, an RUC system would result in these drivers paying relatively less than their metropolitan counterparts.
In addition, this bill seeks to support highly impacted communities and vulnerable populations disproportionately burdened by transportation-related emissions. It will ensure economic and mobility benefits to communities that have historically received less investment in infrastructure. The bill states in Section 2(6), that mapping and forecasting for electric vehicles “must integrate population, health, environmental, and socioeconomic data on a census tract basis.” The state will also be required to consult with the Department of Health, Office of Equity, Department of Ecology, and other agencies to ensure that the integration of electric vehicles properly assesses the cumulative impact on disproportionately impacted communities.
With electric vehicles on the market at lower costs and more widespread electric vehicle charging stations, Washington state’s passage of Clean Cars 2030 serves as a model and a call to action for other states to adopt similar legislation. Gasoline cars have become increasingly irrelevant in favor of electric vehicles as the consequences of global warming have been felt. This bill highlights the end of an era of gasoline-powered cars as more people seek to meet the urgent need for carbon reduction.