Unintended Consequences: How California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project Exacerbates Environmental Justice Inequities Through Emissions Redistribution

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Amity Doolitte
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Poor air quality is a major health risk, and low-income communities and communities of color disproportionately suffer from exposure to air pollution. Electrification of the transport sector in general, and light-duty vehicles specifically, is expected to reduce, in aggregate, emissions of greenhouse gases and criteria air pollutants. However, increased electricity generation to support new electric vehicles introduces possible redistribution of emissions from mobile vehicles to point-source electric generating units such that emissions may decrease in some locations and increase in others. The potential for vehicle electrification to thereby shift the spatial distribution of air-pollution burdens has been previously noted, but analyses have yet to evaluate specific implemented climate policies. Here, I analyze the implications of California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP) for greenhouse gases and criteria air pollutants, in aggregate and in their distribution. Overall, aggregate statewide emissions of CO2, PM2.5, NOX, and SO2 are reduced as a result of the CVRP. However, a majority of Disadvantaged Communities, as defined by CalEnviroScreen 3.0, have experienced net increases in local PM2.5 emissions. Similarly, while most communities experience net decreases in NOX and SO2 from the CVRP, Disadvantaged Communities benefit substantially less than their non-disadvantaged counterparts. If the current spatial distribution of electric vehicle rebates remains unchanged, I project that these inequities will continue through the state's legislative goal of 1.5 million rebates by 2025, even with increased cleanliness of the electricity source for new vehicles. While the CVRP improves air quality in aggregate terms, it simultaneously increases public health inequities in the distribution of air pollution. Increased uptake of electric vehicles in communities facing the highest air pollution exposure, along with accelerated clean-energy generation, could ameliorate associated environmental inequities.