Tesla launched an assault on the entrenched auto industry by going before the California Air Resources Board (CARB) last week with data showing that the auto industry has been actively and successfully lobbying against fuel efficiency improvements that the state has been working towards for the last 20 years (h/t electrek). Specifically, Tesla’s Vice President of Business Development Diarmuid O’Connell shared that lobbying has fundamentally set the state back in achieving its air pollution reduction goals — which is essentially the charter of CARB. Similarly, and more specifically to the point of Tesla being at a CARB meeting in the first place, he argued that the same type of lobbying was taking place against zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) – including Teslas.
Tesla has an obvious interest in promoting electric cars, as that’s its business, but that doesn’t make the facts any less true. The auto lobby effectively delayed fuel economy improvements in the US by about 20 years, which is just sobering. California is known for its aggressive environmental protection regulations and for being an advocate of renewable tech — like EVs — and to have been stymied for such a long period with little to no progress is terrible.
To support his assertions, Mr O’Connell brought a chart that shows an early trend upwards for vehicle fuel efficiency improvements, which then flattens out across 20 years of stagnation. Similarly, he shared a chart for ZEVs showing a similar curve, with early adoption looking great in the 90s but flattening out for 16 years – when the state hit its 1998 EV adoption goal of 2% in 2014.
While this is interesting, it naturally brings up the question – why does the auto lobby care about fuel economy to the point that it is lobbying against improvements for the public? What is its vested interest in the game? More specifically, if automakers aren’t selling the gas that it efficient or inefficient cars use, what’s in it for them? To get at this answer, we will need to get into this a bit deeper. Follow the white rabbit… or in this case, the money.
Stepping back a few weeks, we can see why Tesla was prodded to make a case seemingly out of the blue. California Governor Jerry Brown and Senate Democratic Leader Kevin De Leon recently made a strong push to raise the bar for the state via the aggressive Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act, aka SB 350, which originally mandated that the state’s energy producers move to 50% renewable energy generation, cut petroleum usage by 50%, and double the energy efficiency of existing buildings by 2030. This bill was admittedly very aggressive and met some stiff resistance.
Big Oil, through its trade organization, known as the “Western States Petroleum Association,” leveraged its significant assets to spin the bill as a rich man’s bill. The industry called out Tesla specifically, noting, “Making it harder for regular people to drive to work… but making it easier for those who can afford a Tesla,” even going so far as to rename the bill as the “Gas Restriction Act of 2015.” What’s insane to me is that the WSPA was essentially marketing to the public in order to influence our leadership to change SB 350. This wasn’t put to a public vote, and we can’t even get normal people to vote for who they want for president, so this whole sham seems a bit far fetched.
At the end of the day, De Leon conceded:
“We could not cut through the multi-million dollar smoke screen created by a single interest group with a singular motive and a bottomless war chest.”
“We might get another bill next year, we might just keep doing it by regulation,” Brown said. “California is not going to miss a beat. Be very clear about that. We don’t have a declaration in statute, but we have absolutely the same authority. We’re going forward. The only thing different is my zeal has been intensified to a maximum degree.”
Gotta love that. 😀 We still have a ways to go to continue the fight against the entrenched and incestuous Big Oil and Big Auto industry lobbies, but the tail end of that fuel efficiency graph gives me hope. It’s trending up again… today. I’m hopeful that the state will continue that charge onward toward a cleaner future.
The full presentation is on YouTube for those looking for more detail:
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