Calif. air cleaner despite more people, more miles driven, more gas burned. The road ahead?

Fact: California has some of the worst air pollution in all of North America. Add to this that population and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) have grown. There would seem a connection. Meanwhile, the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB) projects the growth in both population and VMT will continue.

From the ARB’s “California Almanac of Emissions and Air Quality – 2013 Edition,” data in Appendix C-1 shows both California population and total vehicle travel miles. For year 2010, state population is 37,309,382 people while average daily vehicle miles traveled (ADVMT) is 953,029,000. This compares to a state population in 1990 of 29,828,496 people and ADVMT of 655,348,000. Projections are such that by 2015, state population will swell to 38,801,063 and ADVMT will increase to 1,013,538,000, close to double the 1990 ADVMT.

Analysis: Based on year 1990 and 2010 comparisons, state population grew 25 percent in 20 years’ time while ADVMT had risen by more than 45 percent. This clearly shows that ADVMT outgrew population growth by a factor of almost 2 to 1 in the span of just two decades.

If you recall, in “Annual per-capita California driving 1.5 times the national average,” I noted there are 22 million licensed motorists statewide logging over 300 billion yearly miles, 15 billion gallons of gasoline being consumed in the process by 27.5 million light-duty trucks and autos.

As I pointed out also, per capita, California drivers are registering 13,636 miles per year. Assuming that holds steady and at an average per-person gasoline consumption amount of 681.81 gallons of gas and at an-average-miles-per-gallon rating of 20, at 1,013,538,000 average daily vehicle miles traveled, this would result in an average daily vehicle fuel consumption rate of 50,676,900 gallons. Over the entire year, this amounts to 18,497,068,500 gallons of fuel being consumed. Up from 15 billion gallons of fuel consumed, this represents a 23.3 percent increase.

Hydrogen_station_pump[1]There is a mandate in place via the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32) and the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (Senate Bill 375), to help California clean up its air act. At the same time, it is important to note that if vehicle mileage is going up, then motor vehicles must become cleaner burning and far more fuel efficient through the use of cleaner-burning fuels and/or through technological improvement, this coupled with increased numbers of zero emissions vehicles plying roadways and/or a significant shift in the way land and resources are used as it has to do with sustainability and/or a greater reliance on walking, biking and public transportation, that is, in order for those bills’ emissions targets to be met. Improvement progress needs to be ongoing.

As it relates, elaborating on the present and in terms of what could be on the horizon, the ARB in “Background Material: Almanac of Emissions and Air Quality 2013 Edition – Chapter 4 Regional Trends and Forecasts,” goes into far greater air-basin detail concerning the five named regions outlined in “Chapter 1: Introduction.”

Can we Californians continue to do what is necessary to effect further progress? We can. The other question is: Will we?

– Alan Kandel