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The Compost: Find out how many electric vehicles are in your neighborhood

Welcome to The Compost, a weekly newsletter on key environmental news impacting Southern California. Subscribe now to get it in your inbox! In today’s edition…

Heavy California commuters who make under $50,000 a year are spending an average of 23% of their income on gasoline.

That’s one of the startling facts I learned in reporting on a new searchable tool from the nonprofit Coltura that pairs gas consumption and EV ownership rates with demographics for every ZIP code in CA.

Here are some more figures from Coltura for you:

In California, so-called gas “superusers” make up just 10% of the driving population but burn some 28% of the state’s fuel.
California is forecasted to cut just 10% of its gasoline use if it maintains “business as usual” by 2030, but needs a 50% cut to reach its climate goals.
The average “superuser” in California burns 1,260 gallons of gasoline a year, while the average California driver not in that category burns 354 gallons.
Just 2.6% of vehicles in California are electric so far. It’s a bit higher in Orange County, at 4% EV ownership, and Los Angeles County, at 3%. But it’s lower in Riverside County, which is at 1.8%, and San Bernardino County, which is at 1.5%.
EV ownership is on the rise in local counties. It went up 47% from 2021 to 2022 in O.C., 52%  in L.A. County, 63% in Riverside County and 69% in San Bernardino County.
L.A. County drivers burn 2.9 billion gallons of gas a year. O.C. burns 1 billion, Riverside County consumes 907.6 million gallons and San Bernardino County burns 802.3 million gallons.
Orange County boasts the highest percentage of gasoline superusers who drive trucks or SUVs, at 56.5%. Riverside County is next at 51.4%, followed by San Bernardino County at 48.8% and L.A. County.

You can use Coltura’s tool to search your own county or ZIP code and learn more about EV ownership rates, how much gas the area is using and more.

Folks at Coltura, which is a climate-focused nonprofit with the goal of a “gasoline-free America before 2040,” hope the data will help motivate lawmakers to support legislation that increases incentives specifically for lower-income gasoline superusers and gets more public chargers into their communities.

Of course, not everyone is convinced. Here’s a smattering of feedback to my story via email and social media since it went live early this morning:

“I will never buy an EV. I drive off road on the weekend. No they do not have EV hookups on a dirt mountain road.”
“The concept is exciting but the execution is decades away. The real question is what percentage of people have 1) the ability to charge at home overnight – a spot they know is theirs (driveway or garage) and a fast charger, or 2) the same at work?”
“You cannot depend on an EV to make multiple stops and drive many miles in a day. It just doesn’t work. Believe me, I have both.”
“Let CARB get out (of) the way and private industry will figure this out.”
“Well duh, they’re the poorest, that’s why they’re commute is so long. They don’t have $100,000 to buy a $60,000 EV at $40K over sticker at the dealer.”

Another reader asked two good questions I don’t yet have answers to:

“First, has the number of registered gasoline fueled vehicles in California declined or increased? An increase in the number of registered gasoline vehicles without an increase in the actual level of gasoline usage would be a good thing.  It would indicate a step towards more fuel efficient vehicles. Second, has there been a shift in diesel powered vehicles to gasoline powered vehicles?  That could also account for (the) lack in the decrease in the amount of gasoline used.”

Clearly, more education and outreach, data collection and policy changes are needed, acknowledged Janelle London, co-executive director at Coltura. But the nonprofit’s online tool shows that many gasoline superusers, at least, would save money on day one by transitioning to EVs, since they’re already averaging $500 a month on gas and another $300 a month on repairs.

“That’s just a huge chunk of change to redirect towards an EV payment and then much cheaper electricity. So I think that’s the kind of secret that most people don’t realize is, if you’re a superuser, you can probably afford to get into an EV.”

— By Brooke Staggs, environment reporter

 TRANSPORT

Emissions-free train debuts: One of the nation’s most advanced zero-emission locomotives will be tested for the next year on short-haul routes in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Donna Littlejohn reports. The announcement comes on the heels of California passing the most ambitious train emissions rules in the country. …READ MORE…

Trucks vs. air quality: Our visual journalist Kurt Snibbe has graphics, data and context on California’s recent decision to transition semitrucks to zero-emissions technology by 2045 and how it might impact local air quality. …READ MORE…

 ENERGIZE

Hydro-WOAH: The huge snowpack that has blanketed the Sierra Nevada this winter has done more than end California’s drought and extend ski season. With reservoirs full across the state, hydroelectricity generation from dams is expected to expand dramatically this summer, Paul Rogers reports. …READ MORE…

tldr: Hydropower in California is projected to increase 81% overall this year from 2022.

New CEO: The embattled Orange County Power Authority has a new interim chief executive officer: Joe Mosca, the agency’s director of communications and external affairs. He’ll replace the clean energy group’s outgoing CEO Brian Probolsky, who was fired amid a string of negative audits. Our Yusra Farzan has the latest. …READ MORE…

 PROTECT

Burned again: If you read last week’s issue of The Compost, you heard multiple examples of how Indigenous people are being disproportionately impacted by climate change while also being asked for advice on how to fix the problem. This week, Alex Wigglesworth with the Los Angeles Times has a powerful story on how a tribe that’s been barred from doing cultural burns had ancestral lands destroyed by wildfire. …READ MORE…

P-22 love lives on: “They love that cat more than they do other people.” Jill Cowan with the New York Times looks at how Angelenos are still looking for ways to keep P-22’s memory alive some five months after the famed mountain lion died. …READ MORE…

Get a roundup of the best climate and environment news delivered to your inbox each week by signing up for The Compost.

 REGULATE

CEQA reform stalls: In the wake of California’s bedrock environmental law being used recently to stop a high-profile student housing project for UC Berkeley, talk of reforming the statute has reached a fever pitch. Even Democrats have called for major reforms, with Gov. Gavin Newsom in February calling the approval process “clearly broken” and the influential Little Hoover Commission investigating what can be done. But the San Francisco Bee learned proposed reforms recently got scrapped, with an article that outlines how challenging it is to balance competing interests. …READ MORE…

Sell-by dates could expire: There’s no law requiring uniformity for expiration dates on food labels in the United States. And Dustin Gardner writes for the San Francisco Chronicle that confusion over expiration dates accounts for an estimated 20% of food waste nationwide every year. So Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks has proposed legislation to ban sell-by dates and other labels. …READ MORE…

At the newly installed Bommer Canyon Nature Garden in Irvine, there are winding trails through native plant life, with several structures and pieces of equipment that pay homage to the area’s ranching history. (Photo by Brooke Staggs, Orange County Register/SCNG)

 EXPLORE

New nature garden in Irvine: The nonprofit Irvine Ranch Conservancy recently opened the Bommer Canyon Nature Garden to teach visitors about native habitats, local plant life, Orange County’s rich ranching history and why the area developed into a nature preserve. And I can attest, after a visit over the weekend, that the wildflowers are in fine form right now! The garden is open to visitors seven days a week from 7 a.m. to sunset and is adjacent to miles of trails in Irvine’s Open Space Preserve. To get there, head to the Bommer Canyon Trailhead at 1 Bommer Canyon Road in Irvine and follow signs for the Nature Hike Loop.

PITCH IN

Trees for the future: For this week’s tip on how Southern Californians can help the environment… Some trees popular in Southern California aren’t particularly resilient to climate change, Jessica Damiano explains in an Associated Press article we picked up. But trees are long-term investments that can have tremendous benefits for our mental and physical health, along with the health of the planet. So check out Damiano’s tips for planting trees that will be sustainable decades into the warming future, and consider sharing it with anyone looking to do landscaping soon.

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