New Report: Electric Vehicles Are Putting the Brakes on Pollution

Media Contacts

Environment California Research & Policy Center

Oakland—Today, Environment California Research & Policy Center was joined at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland by Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb, doctors, environmental justice advocates and transportation experts to release a new report Driving Cleaner: More Electric Vehicles Mean Less Pollution.”

According to the report, more than 220,000 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are on America’s roads today, delivering real benefits for our health and our environment. In just the last two years, annual sales of electric vehicles have increased by 500 percent nationwide.

“It’s time to charge ahead,” said Mac Farrell, global warming organizer for Environment California. “It’s not just because electric vehicles are speedy, quiet and cool-looking – they are also one of the most important tools we have to break our dependence on oil, clean up our air, improve our health and protect our climate.”

The report shows that electric vehicles could prevent more than 2.5 million metric tons of climate-changing carbon pollution annually in California by 2025. That’s the equivalent of saving over 284 million gallons of gasoline per year, or eliminating tailpipe pollution from more than half a million of today’s cars and trucks.

That’s significant, especially for the 4 in 10 Californians that live near a freeway or busy road and may be at increased risk for asthma, cancer and respiratory illnesses.

“There is no question that air pollution poses a significant risk to all children – especially those with asthma and respiratory issues,” said Dr. Jyothi Marbin, a staff physician at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. “Reducing the emissions from cars, trucks and buses by turning to electric vehicles is a critical step in safeguarding the health of California’s children.”

Electric vehicles are cleaner than vehicles that run on oil, even when charged with coal-fired power, according to Environment California’s report. That’s because electric motors are much more efficient than the internal combustion engine. And as our electricity system incorporates more wind, solar and other forms of zero-emission energy, electric vehicles will only get cleaner. Ultimately, an electric vehicle charged completely with wind or solar power can operate with little to no impact on public health or contribution to global warming.

“Driving on electricity is the cost equivalent of driving on dollar-a-gallon gasoline.  It’s been that way for the last 40 years in real dollars and it is forecast to stay that way for the next 30,” said Max Baumhefner, staff attorney and clean vehicles and fuels expert for the Natural Resources Defense Council.  “Unlike the global oil market which jumps up and down every time there’s a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico or violence in the Middle East, electricity is made of a diverse supply of largely domestic resources and its price is regulated by state commissions. And unlike your typical gasoline vehicle which will only get dirtier over time as oil companies look for more unconventional resources, your electric car will only get cleaner as the electricity grid becomes increasingly reliant on renewable resources such as wind and solar.”

With new advanced cars – whether a plug-in hybrid model like the Chevy Volt, or a fully electric model like the Nissan Leaf, or the Tesla Model-S – Americans can travel increasingly longer distances on electricity alone.

“But we need more electric vehicles on the road,” said Farrell. “So we’re calling on our leaders to get in the driver’s seat and make electric vehicles as convenient, affordable and widespread as vehicles currently powered by oil.”

“We need to dramatically speed up the adoption of clean cars, trucks and buses here, and you do that by making sure that low- and middle-income families can fully participate in California’s electric future,” said Vien Truong, environmental equity director with The Greenlining Institute.  “The high upfront costs and price premiums of plug-in vehicles make these cars relatively inaccessible to low-income communities.  Even though these cars may be cost effective over the lifetime of the vehicle, families with limited resources will likely encounter difficulty in overcoming the initial financial hurdle of purchasing the vehicle.  These hurdles must be overcome if we are to clean up the air for all Californians.” 

Among other actions, Environment California Research & Policy Center recommends that California take the following steps to accelerate the market for electric vehicles and make them a viable and attractive choice for more drivers:

  • Governor Brown, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) and other responsible agencies should adopt and implement the policies needed to fully achieve the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle Action Plan, ensuring that California reaches the pioneering goal of 1.5 million zero emission vehicles by 2025.
  • The ARB should modify its existing light-duty electric vehicle consumer rebate program to improve effectiveness and ensure that the program better serves persons of low and moderate incomes, including establishing a means test for rebate eligibility to assure funds are targeted at consumers who require rebates to purchase a zero-emission and near-zero-emission vehicle.
  • The ARB should create programs, such as electric vehicle car sharing programs and financing programs, to ensure that households in low-income communities that are disproportionately impacted by air pollution have access to and experience the benefits of zero tailpipe emissions.
  • The ARB should expand its successful consumer rebate program for medium and heavy-duty vehicles to deploy more electric trucks and buses in California.
  • Government at all levels should buy zero-emission vehicles for public fleets and build charging infrastructure to support those vehicles. This lead-by-example strategy can replace a large number of miles that would be driven in gasoline-powered vehicles, increase public familiarity with electric vehicles, introduce fleet drivers to electric vehicles and perhaps encourage them to purchase such vehicles for their personal use, and potentially increase the number of publicly accessible charging stations.

 “Let’s steer toward a safer climate and a cleaner, healthier future,” said Farrell. “Future generations will thank us for it.”


Environment California Research & Policy Center is a statewide nonprofit environmental advocacy organization working to protect California’s air, water and open spaces.