California Auditor Demands Proof Climate Programs Are Working

The state auditor called on the air pollution management board to show more evidence its expensive incentive programs are working to reduce emissions while producing the socioeconomic gains the agency purports. 

(CN) — The powerful California agency that regulates air quality in the state is not doing enough to measure and analyze whether its transportation programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are effective, the state auditor said in a report issued Tuesday. 

State auditor Elaine Howle said the California Air Resources Board must do more to determine whether its transportation programs are working properly toward the effort to reduce emissions, specifically whether incentives are actually affecting consumer behavior in the manner claimed. 

“CARB has not done enough to measure the GHG emissions reductions its individual transportation programs achieve,” Howle wrote in a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom and other California legislators. “Specifically, CARB has not collected or evaluated sufficient data to allow it to determine whether or how its incentive programs, which pay consumers in exchange for purchasing low- and zero-emission vehicles, reduce GHG emissions beyond what CARB’s regulations already require.”

Howle told the air resources board to provide proof that its various programs meant to reduce emissions and provide cleaner transportation to low-income communities are working. 

CARB spokesperson Melanie Turner said the agency will implement the recommendations. 

“The audit contains a range of recommendations to improve metrics that we will be implementing,” Turner said via email Tuesday. “Some of these recommendations will require additional staff and other resources.”

Howle’s report takes issue with the board’s failure to track whether the state’s incentive program to buy electric vehicles have caused individuals and businesses to buy those vehicles they otherwise would not particularly given regulations that ban combustion engine vehicles by 2035. 

“CARB has overstated the greenhouse gas emissions reductions its incentive programs have achieved, although it is unclear by how much,” Howle wrote. “Given the ambitious nature of the state’s climate change goals and the short time frame to meet them, California is in need of more reliable tools with which to make funding decisions.”

Howle also criticizes the lack of effective measurements as it relates to the board’s programs aimed at providing socioeconomic benefits to low-income and marginalized communities. 

The air resources board receives funding from California’s cap-and-trade program, which puts a limit on the amount of emissions certain companies can produce unless they buy credits to emit more. State law directs the agency to use the funds in a manner that helps communities in environmentally disadvantaged positions, like communities near oil refineries or manufacturing plants where air pollution is particularly acute.

But while CARB says says its regulatory and incentive-based programs are helping such communities, Howle wants to see more evidence. 

“These programs may cost significantly more than other incentive programs because they offer higher incentive payments per vehicle and may require more administrative effort,” the report states. “Partly due to these additional costs, we expected CARB to demonstrate the programs’ value by clearly defining and measuring the specific socioeconomic benefits.”

Assemblyman Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Elk Grove, said Howle’s report is a confirmation of concerns he has had with CARB, particularly as it relates to financial inequities within the electric vehicle incentive program. 

“It is my hope that with today’s findings from the state auditor that CARB will end its 10-year practice of enacting climate policies that benefit California’s wealthy while doing very little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, will instead prioritize creating programs to help working-families and to cut emissions in our most disadvantaged communities,” Cooper said.  

Republican lawmakers were even harsher in their assessment of the report’s import, with state Senator Brian Dahle, a Republican from Bieber, saying CARB has been “disingenuous with the public for decades.”

“This unelected body of bureaucrats have led Californians to believe that their transportation programs have been successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions without science-based proof,” Dahle said in a statement on Tuesday. “It is extremely disappointing to learn that CARB has not only overstated the achievements of its emissions reductions program, but also their cost-effectiveness.”

The agency must also be aware of overlaps between the regulatory and incentive-based portions of its programs, the report states. If the prospect of the future ban on gasoline vehicles is causing people to shift to electric vehicles, incentives like rebates — which come at a high cost to taxpayers — might not be as necessary. The auditor wants the agency to become more detailed on which programs specifically cause changes in consumer behavior that in turn help drive down emissions in the state. 

Howle also wants more evidence about job creation and its relationship to both the incentive- and regulatory-based aspects of its program to reduce emissions. 

“CARB has been slow to measure the jobs its programs create and support — or the benefits of the specialized job training that certain programs are supposed to provide,” Howle wrote in Tuesday’s letter. “As with the need to assess accurately programs’ GHG reductions, knowing whether its programs are achieving the expected important but more expensive socioeconomic benefits is crucial to providing the state with the information it needs to allocate its limited resources effectively in pursuit of its various goals.”

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