How Can Local Governments Plan for Equity in EV Infrastructure?

In August, the California Air Resources Board finalized regulations that will phase out the sale of new internal combustion engine automobiles by 2035. The regulations (known as Advanced Clean Cars II) deliver on a commitment Governor Newsom made in a 2020 executive order and build on decades of emissions reduction programs from CARB. In turn, CARB’s 2022 Climate Change Scoping Plan Update, which sets the statewide program to achieve GHG emissions reduction targets, relies on 100% zero-emission vehicle sales by 2035 as a core strategy.

CARB’s regulations, together with a suite of vehicle purchase and infrastructure incentive programs, have driven a rapid increase in electric vehicle (EV) sales in California–over 17 percent of all new sales in 2022, nearly triple the national rate. But how are we going to get from 17 to 100 percent in 12 years? 

And, even more importantly, how are we going to ensure that this rapid EV transition is equitable, promoting locally appropriate transportation options, avoiding higher costs for lower-income and underserved communities, and increasing mobility overall? 

State analyses have shown that we will need 1.2 million public and shared private chargers by 2030 to meet state goals, that charging infrastructure is disproportionately located in high-income communities, and that a range of affordability, accessibility, and awareness barriers limit lower-income residents’ access to clean mobility options. At the same time, California Energy Commission data show that Teslas constitute more than half of new EV sales. A recent driver survey showed that EV interest is highest in minority communities that may also face the highest hurdles–such as a higher proportion of multifamily building residence–to EV ownership. There is a clear infrastructure and vehicle access gap.

We are kicking off a new initiative at CLEE to help understand and address these issues. Over the coming months, we will begin work with local governments and other key stakeholders in California to develop local plans for equitable charging deployment in high-priority areas, build legal guidebooks and model ordinances, conduct iterative mapping exercises to identify best-fit sites, and craft innovative financing models to fund infrastructure. Our goal is to meet local governments where they are in their EV planning processes, build momentum, and ensure these communities are the focus of policymakers’ efforts to decarbonize transportation.

State leaders are already taking significant strides in this direction. Last week, the California Energy Commission approved a $2.9 billion investment plan for zero-emission transportation infrastructure that includes $900 million for EV charging. And last month, the California Air Resources Board issued a complementary $2.6 billion investment plan for clean transportation that includes $381 million for clean transportation equity investments. Utilities and community choice aggregators, as well as private charger development companies, are also preparing to commit significant funds. These programs will supplement significant federal investments that will come from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. 

But without effective local planning to focus on high-priority communities, these areas may get passed by. Many local governments are already developing comprehensive zero-emission transportation plans, but only some–like Oakland–are prioritizing equity throughout. Our initiative aims to supplement these efforts and promote them around the state. You can read more about it here and look for updates throughout 2023 as we get started.

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About Ted

Ted Lamm is a Senior Research Fellow at CLEE. Ted’s research focuses on California policies regarding climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, and the relationships…

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