Brown Says Global Lead on Zero Emissions Beating Forecast

For four decades, California has set the pace for clean-air initiatives, from curbing tailpipe emissions to promoting renewable energy. Now the world’s eighth-largest economy is forging a path for electric cars.

Californians bought as many as 26,482 electric vehicles this year, more than any country including second-place China, with a population that’s 35 times bigger. The most-populous U.S. state has 2,300 public charging stations, or about 10 times as many as in China, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

During his three terms starting in the 1970s, California Governor Jerry Brown has helped rewrite regulations to reward power companies for how much energy they save and mandated that a third of electricity come from sources such as solar. His latest ambition is for 1.5 million zero-emission cars on state roads in the next decade.

“We are going to do everything we can to meet that goal,” Brown said yesterday in an interview at the United Nations in New York, where he spoke at a climate summit. “Every single forecast for renewable energy was way ahead of schedule. We’re going to get to our goal long before expectations.”

Clean Vehicles

Brown, a 76-year-old Democrat seeking an unprecedented fourth term, belongs to a tradition in which both parties have collaborated on environmental regulation in California. The governor signed bills this week to make zero-emission vehicles cheaper for low-income residents, expand the number of charging outlets in private office buildings and apartments and create a funding plan to support the development of clean air vehicle technology.

“We have the toughest vehicle emissions standards in the country,” Brown said at the summit. “Our climate law was enacted by a Republican. You can do all these things and still have a vibrant society.”

Electric cars such as those made in Fremont, California, by billionaire Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors Inc. are at the forefront of Brown’s initiatives. Brown made a surprise appearance in February 2012 at the company’s design center in Los Angeles when Tesla unveiled its Model X, a battery-powered sport-utility vehicle.

“There’s a rocket ship next door and you know, as ‘Governor Moonbeam,’ I love rocket ships, but I also like electric cars,” Brown said at the time. “California has set the tone, set the goal for the whole nation.”

Gubernatorial Opponent

A spokeswoman for Neel Kashkari, the Republican candidate for governor in the November election, said Kashkari also favors electric vehicles.

“Neel supports low-emission cars but doesn’t think the way to promote them is by making traditional energy sources like oil more expensive,” Mary-Sarah Kinner said in an e-mail.

California accounts for four out of every 10 plug-in electric car sales in the U.S. In July 2013, Japan, with 127 million residents, had about 4,700 charging stations while California, with a third of that country’s population, has 2,300, according to the Energy Department.

“California is undoubtedly the global leader in transportation electrification,” said Max Baumhefner, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Jerry Brown has repeatedly demonstrated his leadership and vision in the need to address the single largest sources of carbon pollution, which is our cars, trucks and buses. He has long recognized the link between climate change and emissions from the transportation sector.”

China Sales

In China, the country that most closely trails California in year-to-date zero-emission-vehicle sales, 24,460 electric cars were purchased in January through July, according to Alan Baum, an auto analyst at Baum & Associates in West Bloomfield, Michigan, citing industry figures. California alone accounted for 21,848 to 26,482 of the 66,206 electric-vehicle sales in the U.S. in January through July, Baum said.

The number of hybrid cars in California has grown 110 percent to 709,766 in 2013 from 337,881 in 2009, according to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

There were 60,988 electric autos registered in the state as of Aug. 31, the DMV said. Nationwide, the number of electric vehicles grew 20.5 percent during the first eight months of this year, according to WardsAuto in Southfield, Michigan, which tracks industry performance.

California Rebates

California offers as much as $5,000 in rebates for the purchase or lease of new zero-emission and plug-in hybrid light-duty vehicles. The state has doled out more than $158 million in rebates since 2010.

At the UN climate summit yesterday, Brown said he expected California to meet its target that one-third of all power come from renewable sources within four years, ahead of the 2020 deadline.

“Today we’re at 23 percent,” Brown said. “We should be at 33 percent in four years.”

Brown acknowledges California’s debt on environmental regulation to governors who came before him, including Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed the nation’s most comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions law in 2006. It set cap-and-trade rules that let businesses buy pollution credits from companies that reduce emissions.

“While the politicians in Washington can’t get anything done because they’re stuck in their ideological foxholes, we here in California have two governors from two different parties in the same room fighting for the same green energy future,” Schwarzenegger said during a climate change summit held in Sacramento Sept. 8.

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