California Must Extend Zero Emission Vehicle Funding from “AB 8 Fees”

August 29, 2023 | 7:00 am
US Department of Energy
Daniel Barad
Western States Policy Manager

Update: On September 11, 2023, the reauthorization of the fees and programs outlined in this blog and originally appearing as Assembly Bill 241 (AB 241) was inserted into Assembly Bill 126 (AB 126).

If you have been in a Sacramento coffee shop over the past few years, you have probably heard something about AB 8 reauthorization, AQIP, CPT, or EFMP.

Unless you are a clean transportation wonk or are in a deeply sad place with your social life, you probably don’t know what the heck that alphabet soup means, so let me translate.

For California to achieve its climate goals and federal air quality obligations, the state legislature must approve the extension of a modest portion of vehicle registration fees (called “AB 8 Fees”). These fees generate more than $100 million per year to fund zero emission vehicle (ZEV) incentives, electric vehicle chargers and hydrogen fueling stations through the Air Quality Improvement Program (AQIP), Clean Transportation Program (CTP), and Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program (EFMP).

These fees and programs were established with legislation in 2007 and then were extended until 2024 with the passage of Assembly Bill 8 in 2013 (hence the name, “AB 8 fees”). Now, Assembly Bill 126 (AB 126) would extend these fees and modernize the funding programs to make sure that public dollars are spent in common sense and equitable ways.

Passing fees in California requires a two-third’s vote from both houses of the legislature, and when vote margins are slim, the politics get tricky. To make the stakes even higher, if these fees are not extended this year, they will likely be gone forever.

The California legislature cannot risk losing millions of dollars in clean transportation funding. California’s clean vehicle future is hanging in the balance. They must act to extend these fees as soon as possible.

Funding clean vehicles is critical for California’s climate and public health

From unprecedented wildfires and extreme heat to historic drought and devastating flooding, the climate crisis is here, and it has hit California hard in recent years. It’s clear, and it has been clear for decades, that to stave off the worst impacts of climate change we must drastically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Much of California also continues to be out of compliance with federal air quality standards, and millions of Californians breathe unhealthy air every day. The human health impacts of breathing polluted air are horrific: asthma, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, developmental harm, premature death and much more.

Hastening the state’s transition to clean vehicles will address both of these problems.

Even with promising zero-emission vehicle sales in recent years, gasoline-fueled cars and trucks continue to emit 40% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions and 45% of our smog-forming nitrogen oxides, more commonly referred to as NOx emissions. To continue the path towards zero emissions, the California legislature and governor must secure sustainable funding for clean vehicles that is not subject to boom and bust budget cycles.

Extending AB 8 fees by passing AB 126 is the solution.

Same fees, new look

The bill that would extend AB 8 fees, also makes two key changes to help improve the effectiveness of these funding programs and make them more equitable by:

  • Decreasing the 20% carveout that exists for hydrogen fueling infrastructure in the state’s current Clean Transportation Program to 10%. This change would give California the flexibility to spend the bulk of its clean vehicle funding on the dominant ZEV technology: battery electric vehicles. Only about 1% of ZEVs sold in California to date have been hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, so the near-term priority should clearly be to ensure the other 99% of ZEVs have access to chargers. If hydrogen fuel cell vehicles take off in the coming years, nothing precludes the state from spending more than 10% on hydrogen fueling.
  • Requiring 50% of the Clean Transportation Program funding to be spent in disadvantaged communities to ensure the communities that have been overburdened by air pollution and have borne the brunt of its impacts will have access to zero-emission technologies and, eventually, clean air. This funding can also be spent on swapping heavy duty diesel trucks for zero-emission models in these communities, which will have massive public health benefits.

I should note that this is the current proposal in the legislature and, as with all legislation, everything is up for negotiation until the bitter end.

But what is not negotiable is that extending these fees is absolutely critical for clean air and a livable climate.

Let’s do it!

The California legislative session ends on September 14 and this bill can come up for a vote at any time between now and then. The California legislature must act to make sure that we do not lose the more than $100 million in clean vehicle funding that comes from AB 8 fees.

So next time you are in a café and hear something about needing AB 8 reauthorization followed by a bunch of random letters, feel free to chime in and say that you couldn’t agree more.

More importantly, you can call your legislator (use this link to find yours) and ask them to support AB 126.

For more on what’s happening in Sacramento read this and this about our sponsored bill, Senate Bill 233 (Skinner), and this about our efforts to modernize state water rights.