Gas guzzlers will produce ‘feebates’

Cindy Von Quednow

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A global warming bill in the California State Assembly was pulled by its author late last month after not garnering enough support.

The California Clean Car Discount Act, or AB 493, in an effort to curb the emission of green house gasses into the atmosphere, would have imposed a one-time fee and given rebates to new car buyers based on the amount of harmful gasses their car emits.

Car models such as the 2011 Ford F-150 would be charged up to $2,500 while others, like the Honda Civic, would qualify for a “feebate.” These monetary figures are determined by the amount of carbon dioxide and other harmful gasses each vehicle releases. The money gathered from surcharges will go into paying for the rebates and other administrative costs, making AB 493 a self-funded bill.

The overall goal of the California Clean Car Discount Act was to encourage automakers to make more environmentally friendly cars so that consumers will buy them.

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Ira Ruskin (D-Redwood City), said he plans to reintroduce the bill in the next few weeks.

“I would be happy to take on amendments that broaden support for the bill, but none that would lessen the significance of the legislation,” said Ruskin. “We will continue the fight to pass this bill because the fight against global warming has to be won.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists, an organization based in Berkeley which helped Ruskin draft the bill, predicts that AB 493 has the potential of wiping out “nearly a third of California’s global warming pollution – over 75 million tons per year by 2030.”

UCS will continue working with Ruskin to revise the bill, said Daniel Kalb, the organization’s California policy coordinator.

“(Ruskin) is a smart legislator, and he saw no reason to bring (the bill) on if the votes aren’t there,” Kalb said.

An earlier version of the bill was defeated last June, when seven Los Angeles Democrats abstained from the vote. In order for the bill to pass, at least five of them need to go Ruskin’s way.

“I didn’t have enough information on the bill,” said Assemblyman Mike Davis, one of the undecided voters. “I could have used more information on how the fees would work.”

Davis said that although the bill’s goals are admirable and many Democrats in the Assembly are concerned with global warming issues, he has problems with how the bill will affect auto workers.

“(Ruskin) needs to sit down with me, and others, to come to an agreement in terms of how we can achieve common goals,” said Davis.

“We believe it is unnecessary to provide a tax on consumers who need certain types of vehicles for small businesses or their lifestyles,” said Charles Territo of Washington D.C.-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, one of the groups against AB 493.

Territo said the Alliance offers more than 20 models of alternative fuel cars that reduce emissions and enhance fuel security.

“Consumers already have a wide range of vehicles available to them that fit their needs,” said Territo. “This bill punishes consumers who already pay more in high gas prices regardless of why they need the vehicle they drive. . . It is a redistribution of wealth and discriminates against people who need larger vehicles for their way of life,” he concluded.

Ruskin said AB 493 exempts vehicles used for small businesses (less than 25 employees) and new car buyers who are 200 percent below the poverty line.

“This bill does not focus on one type of vehicle, it’s what comes out of their tailpipes,” said Kalb. “Most vehicles that are larger are not purchased by low-income families; that is a myth. The reality is that this bill will help lower-income people because the kinds of cars they purchase are the ones they can already afford today and almost all of them are on the rebate side of our bill.”

College students will also benefit from AB 493 because they tend to buy compact, fuel efficient cars that will most likely qualify for a rebate and can save them money, Kalb said.

“I think people that drive hybrid cars should definitely get breaks,” said CSUN senior and music education major, Bob Crail, who drives his Honda Element, or “the ice cream truck” as he calls it, between his Santa Monica home and his job in South Central. “It really doesn’t make sense to me why people drive ginormous SUVs that guzzle gas.”

Ashley Quarles, freshman liberal studies major, agreed and thinks the proposed bill might help convince her father to get a fuel efficient vehicle.

“Cars that are bad with gas should cost more and cars that aren’t should be cheaper,” Quarles said.

Not all new cars will be affected if this bill passes. According to UCS, about 20 to 25 percent of vehicles, including smaller SUVs and minivans, do not qualify for a charge or rebate. Cars such as the Ford Mustang and Toyota Tacoma, fall into the “zero dollar-band” category.

Some critics argue that taxes on new larger vehicles would discourage consumers from buying one, leading them to stay with their older car or buy a used one.

“Ironically, by surcharging vehicles, it creates an incentive to hold on to a vehicle longer, adding to pollution,” said Brian Maas of the California Motor Car Dealers Association. “This bill does nothing to address that.”

UCS states that, if consumers buy more fuel efficient cars today, these cars will become the used cars of tomorrow, and that will continue the process of reducing harmful emissions.

Professor of environmental and occupational health, Peter Bellin, agreed with experts who argue that there is increased exposure to harmful pollutants in low-income households and families, because they tend to be located in areas near freeways, where most people don’t want to live. He said there are higher instances of coronary heart disease and pulmonary problems.

“A lot of it has to do with economics,” Bellin added.

As global warming is a national and international issue, similar feebate laws have been passed in European countries, and are being considered in northeastern states.

“Where I’m from, everyone has a small car because gas is more expensive,” said Aleks Malczewski, a freshman theater major from Canada, one of the countries that has a feebate law in effect. “Everything can always be improved in some way, so this bill is on the right track.”

CSUN’s division of parking and transportation services encourages commuters to seek alternatives to driving, like carpooling and public transportation.

Bellin said some departments allow faculty and staff to have flexible schedules and only have to come in if they have class or a meeting, which minimizes trips to campus.