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Electric and hybrid vehicles could lose carpool access next year

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For years, many owners of electric and hybrid vehicles in California have qualified for temporary “clean air vehicle” decals that let them freely cruise the carpool lane even when driving solo.

That freedom may be coming to an end, however.

If the federal government doesn’t extend the program allowing alternative-fuel vehicles to use the carpool lane, it will expire Sept. 30, 2025.

In 2005, legislation authorized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow solo drivers in low-emission and energy-efficient cars to use the carpool lane. The point was to promote the adoption of alternative-fuel vehicles and help meet environmental goals, said Ronald Ongtoaboc, public information officer for the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

Those goals aligned with the objectives of carpool lanes, which are to reduce fuel consumption and pollution caused by congested freeways, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

In the years that followed, states gained the power to choose which vehicle models to give carpool access; their decisions were driven by purchasing trends and technology advancements. But the highway funding bill enacted in 2015 extended that power just through Sept. 29, 2025.

“After that date, the public authority must discontinue allowing the use of such vehicle in HOV lanes unless such vehicle has the required number of occupants or Congress extends this provision,” Ongtoaboc said.

A 2022 update to California’s Clean Air Vehicle decals granted low- and zero-emission vehicles access to HOV lanes just until Sept. 30, 2025.

At the time of the update, there were 411,133 vehicles in California with active CAV decals. Since the program started in January 2001, the DMV has issued more than 1 million decals to cars that meet the state’s criteria, Ongtoaboc said.

Only first-time owners of eligible vehicles qualify for the decals. And since 2018, newly issued decals have expired in four years or less, with no option to renew them.

The decals issued since 2022 are set to expire when the state law does, on Sept. 30, 2025. If the federal government and the California Legislature extend the decal program beyond that date, the DMV will evaluate the new requirements before making a decision on whether to extend the existing decals, Ongtoaboc said.

Regardless of color, all decals issued before 2021 have now expired.



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Magnitude 2.8 earthquake reported in View Park-Windsor Hills

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A magnitude 2.8 earthquake was reported Tuesday at 8:19 a.m. Pacific time in Los Angeles’ View Park-Windsor Hills neighborhood, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The earthquake‘s epicenter was 7.1 miles beneath the intersection of Overland Drive and Northridge Drive, near Windsor Hills Elementary School. .

In the last 10 days, there have been no earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater centered nearby.

An average of 59 earthquakes with magnitudes between 2.0 and 3.0 occur per year in the Greater Los Angeles area, according to a recent three-year data sample.

Did you feel this earthquake? Consider reporting what you felt to the USGS.

Are you ready for when the Big One hits? Get ready for the next big earthquake by signing up for our Unshaken newsletter, which breaks down emergency preparedness into bite-sized steps over six weeks. Learn more about earthquake kits, which apps you need, Lucy Jones’ most important advice and more at latimes.com/Unshaken.

This story was automatically generated by Quakebot, a computer application that monitors the latest earthquakes detected by the USGS. A Times editor reviewed the post before it was published. If you’re interested in learning more about the system, visit our list of frequently asked questions.



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Justice Thomas returns to Supreme Court after 1-day absence

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is back on the bench after an unexplained one-day absence.

Thomas, 75, was in his usual seat, to the right of Chief Justice John Roberts as the court met to hear arguments in a case about the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

Thomas has ignored calls from some progressive groups to step aside from cases involving Jan. 6 because his wife, Ginni, attended then-President Donald Trump‘s rally near the White House before protesters descended on the Capitol. Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist, also texted senior Trump administration officials in the weeks after the election offering support and reiterating her belief that there was widespread fraud in the election.

On Monday, Roberts announced Thomas’ absence, without providing an explanation. Justices sometimes miss court, but participate remotely. Thomas did not take part in Monday’s arguments.

He was hospitalized two years ago with an infection, causing him to miss several court sessions. He took part in the cases then, too.

Thomas is the longest serving of the current justices, joining the Supreme Court in 1991.



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Germany’s Leader, Olaf Scholz, Walks a Fine Line in China

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Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany tried to strike a delicate balance on a trip to China this week, promoting business ties with his country’s biggest trading partner while criticizing its surge of exports to Europe and its support for Russia.

Mr. Scholz met with China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Tuesday, the culmination of a three-day visit with a delegation of German officials and business leaders. He was also expected to meet with Premier Li Qiang, as the two countries navigate relations strained by Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s rivalry with the United States, Germany’s most important ally.

Throughout his trip, Mr. Scholz promoted the interests of German companies that are finding it increasingly hard to compete in China. And he conveyed growing concern in the European Union that the region’s market is becoming a dumping ground for Chinese goods produced at a loss.

It was Mr. Scholz’s first visit to China since his government adopted a strategy last year that defined the Asian power as a “partner, competitor and systemic rival,” calling on Germany to reduce its dependency on Chinese goods.

Germany’s economy shrank last year, and its weaknesses have exposed a reliance on China for growth. Energy prices have risen because of the war in Ukraine, which has been facilitated by Beijing’s support for the Kremlin. German companies have pushed for more access to China and complained that they face unfair competition.

During his trip, which began in the sprawling industrial metropolis of Chongqing in China’s southwest and continued in Shanghai and Beijing, the chancellor visited German companies with extensive investments in China, met with trade representatives and talked with university students.

“Competition must be fair,” Mr. Scholz told a group of German-speaking students in Shanghai on Monday. “We want a level playing field,” he said.

Mr. Scholz’s trip was an example of the difficult dance that Germany is trying to do: maintaining economic ties with China while managing U.S. pressure to align itself more closely with Washington against Beijing. He was also expected to convey European leaders’ geopolitical and trade concerns to China.

In his meetings, Mr. Scholz highlighted Germany’s commitment to doing business with China, but he also warned that Beijing had to curb the flood of Chinese goods into Europe. At the same time, he expressed reservations about the European Union’s investigations into China’s use of subsidies for green technology industries, saying that any discussion about trade must be based on fairness.

“This must be done from a position of self-confident competitiveness and not from protectionist motives,” Mr. Scholz told reporters on Monday.

China’s manufacturing push in green sectors like electric cars and solar panels has touched off trade disputes with Europe and the United States, where such industries have also received government support. But with 5,000 German companies active in the Chinese market, Germany stands to lose more than many of its European partners would if Beijing were to retaliate against the European Union.

“If the E.U. goes too hard against China, we could expect countermeasures and this would be a catastrophe for us,” said Maximilian Butek, the executive director of the German Chamber of Commerce in China.

“For us it’s extremely important that the Chinese market remains open,” he said.

In his meetings with Chinese leaders, Mr. Scholz was also expected to raise concerns about Beijing’s support of Moscow’s wartime economy, especially its continued sale to Russia of goods with potential uses on the battlefield.

In his discussion with students in Shanghai, Mr. Scholz alluded to Russia’s war in Ukraine, saying that the world functioned best when all nations embraced some basic shared principles.

“One of these is that one should not have to fear its neighbors,” Mr. Scholz said, without naming any nations. “Borders cannot be changed with force.”

China is hoping to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States by courting leaders such as Mr. Scholz. State media reports depicted his visit as demonstrating the strength of China’s relations with Europe, playing up its economic ties with Germany.

Beijing is sure to welcome the message that German businesses are committed to China. The Asian giant is trying to court foreign investment to reinvigorate its economy, which has faltered because of a housing slowdown. Some Western businesses and investors have also been rattled by Mr. Xi’s emphasis on national security, which they regard as making it riskier to operate in the country.

From China’s perspective, Germany may be its best hope of delaying or watering down any trade restrictions from Europe, said Noah Barkin, a senior adviser in the China practice at the Rhodium Group, a research firm.

German carmakers have invested billions of dollars in China, and much of their revenue comes from there. Many worry that if the European Commission imposes higher tariffs on Chinese exports, and Beijing retaliates, German businesses will suffer most.

Chinese officials “know that German companies are heavily invested and they use that politically to influence political decision making in Berlin,” Mr. Barkin said.

Germany’s biggest companies, including BMW, Mercedes-Benz and BASF, are heavily invested in China and have strong, effective lobbies in Berlin, Mr. Barkin added. Executives from those companies, along with several others, traveled with Mr. Scholz to China.

“The supply chain in China is stuffed with German goods,” said Joerg Wuttke, a former president of the E.U. Chamber of Commerce in China. “If China has a price war with Germany, than no one will make money anymore.”

Chinese officials, for their part, have brushed off the European accusations of unfair trading practices, calling them groundless and an act of “typical protectionism.” They have hinted that they could retaliate for any actions taken by the E.U., saying that China was “strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposes” its investigations.

Wang Wentao, China’s commerce minister, went to Europe last week to show Beijing’s support for Chinese companies and push back against the accusations that China was dumping goods on the region and posing a risk to global markets.

In an interview with the German newspaper Handelsblatt, Wu Ken, China’s ambassador to Germany, said the competitive of Chinese electric vehicles “relies on innovation, not subsidies.”

“The challenge faced by developed countries lies more in the fact that Chinese companies are more efficient,” the ambassador said.

Zixu Wang contributed reporting from Hong Kong.



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