Electric vehicle rules won’t work in California farming areas

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New requirements for electric vehicles by 2035 are not realistic for farm workers, says a Fresno agriculture expert.

New requirements for electric vehicles by 2035 are not realistic for farm workers, says a Fresno agriculture expert.

Sacramento Bee file

California must address climate change if we want to create a sustainable future for our communities. That’s true in rural agricultural parts of California just as it is true in our state’s big cities. But when the California Air Resources Board bans everything but all-electric vehicles, it’s rural Californians who work in agriculture that pay the steepest price.

Any plan that disproportionately hurts our people and businesses will fail — and it will most surely threaten the availability of California’s fresh produce and fruit, products that literally feed the world.

When energy costs go up, it’s our lives and business operations that get disrupted most heavily. And it’s our agricultural communities that must work harder to navigate state restrictions that just won’t work. We’ve seen enough of government mandates that only make our jobs harder. This latest one is no different.

CARB’s current proposals are a misguided, rushed attempt to oversimplify a solution, and do not consider impacts outside of California’s large cities. A 2035 deadline to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars and trucks may sound achievable if you live in the Bay Area, already drive a Tesla (or some other electric vehicle), and have already paid to put in a personal charging station in your home. But for most people in the San Joaquin Valley, this deadline and the lack of attention paid to how this regulation will affect our spread-out, rural, agricultural counties raises serious red flags.

And the proposed answer to those who can’t afford an electric vehicle or charger is to build us “more bike lanes and bus routes.” I’m not kidding! Gavin Newsom’s team of so-called experts want low-income rural residents who work in agriculture to ride bikes on new bike lanes or take the bus to get to work if they do not buy an all-electric vehicle.

We do not currently have the infrastructure nor is our industry set up to support this rapid shift. We rely on workers who get to and from work in their own gas-powered cars and trucks. There aren’t bus lanes or bike paths to get to our jobs. California produces over one-third of the nation’s vegetables, and two-thirds of the country’s fruit and nuts. That food only gets to grocery store shelves and dinner tables because agricultural workers can get to work, every single day. Even putting the sheer cost of an electric vehicle aside, where would workers charge these cars during their workday? Will individual farmers and employers be on the hook for putting personal charging stations across job sites? In their fruit orchards or tomato fields?

We know that our industry has a central role in addressing the climate crisis. We’re creating large-scale projects like methane digesters. We’re using new water practices that protect our supply. We are already part of the solution. But today, it’s time for us to stand up and raise our voices, speak out against rushed policies, and reject regulations currently under debate that will hurt the every-day people of rural, agricultural regions of California.

Maybe the future really will have zero-emission vehicles in rural California, but this new rule will not help speed-up that future. Forcing this before technology has caught up restricts us the most. Suggesting workers in the San Joaquin Valley ride buses or bicycles while others in San Francisco charge up their fancy cars smacks of the kind of elitism rural Californians have grown weary of.

Our future will undoubtedly include a number of different types of energy and fuel sources. And I believe that, in our uniquely American and Californian way, we will face this challenge with ingenuity and innovation. But we cannot accept false solutions that ignore and leave behind California’s agricultural industry. We want to be a part of the solution – but we can’t be a part of that solution if we can’t get to work.

If you want to share your voice in response to these unrealistic deadlines and decisions by CARB, visit https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/applications/public-comments.

Manuel Cunha has been president of the Nisei Farmers League since 1996. The league specializes in labor, immigration, housing, transportation, and environmental issues representing growers and related businesses of many agriculture commodities.

Manuel Cunha Jr.
Manuel Cunha Jr., president of the Nisei Farmers League. Juan Esparza Loera

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