California is unique in its environmental and clean air policies, with many resolutions, regulations, mandates and incentive programs dedicated to cleaning the air, fighting climate change and protecting the environment. It’s also unique in the availability of a wide range of public dollars to aid the effort, especially when it comes to reducing emissions from things that move – such as cars, trucks, trains and marine vessels.

An array of incentive programs seeking to kick-start or commercialize nascent technologies and industry sectors in hopes of achieving clean air and climate goals. Several state agencies and multiple local governments have various additional incentive programs. Dozens of programs fund everything from electric passenger vehicle rebates to testing all-electric port trucks. Over the years, various sources of funding from cap-and-trade revenue, bonds and vehicle registration fees have generated almost $2 billion for these programs.

The sums available are considerable. The transparency, accounting and eligibility are not.

California’s incentive programs are disjointed.

What is the way forward for getting the most out of these valuable incentive programs?

A group of health and environmental advocates and industry leaders – the Clean Air Dialogue, of which the Diesel Technology Forum is a member – drafted a plan to show California’s policymakers how to make more effective use of programs to achieve cleaner air and climate goals. This proposed set of guiding principles offers practical solutions for policymakers on how to make California’s incentive programs work harder, better and benefit more people resulting in cleaner air and lower greenhouse gas emissions – delivered faster and smarter.

We offer the following recommendations to put incentive programs and dollars to better use to improve air quality for those communities most in need:

First: Programs must be technology neutral. This approach prioritizes outcomes over hand-picked winners. Important advances in all technologies and fuel types are being made. These latest innovations should be allowed to compete fairly to deliver benefits across the state, including to those communities most in need of emission reductions. It’s not a one-size-fits-all problem, and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Second: Policymakers need to achieve a proper balance between programs that deliver benefits today, and investments in longer-term technologies still on the drawing board.Currently, much policy focuses on funding demonstrations of emerging technologies. While appealing at some level, this approach does little to provide direct benefits to those communities most in need of air quality gains today. Proven and available clean technologies are ready to go now. More focus should be directed to policies to get these technologies on the road and at work, delivering needed benefits right now.

Third: State agencies must account for and disclose the benefits provided by these many programs. While Californians pay for many of these programs, state agencies rarely disclose the air quality and climate benefits generated by them. Consistent and open public accounting of the actual benefits delivered by these programs not only provides transparency, but also helps state agency officials learn from those solutions that achieve results and improve those that fall short.

In short: Whether incentives come in the form of dollars from carbon reduction funds paid for by industry or from direct taxpayer-funded programs, we can and should do better to leverage California’s incentive programs for the greater benefit of achieving our desired cleaner transportation system of the future.

California’s many clean air and climate incentive funding programs could do more good for more people. Let’s work together to make it happen.