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California moves to end sales of gas-powered cars by 2035

Gov. Newsom's executive order directs the state air pollution regulator to craft a mandate to meet the deadline as a step against climate change

California Gov. Gavin Newsom at a news conference in February.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom at a news conference in February. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

As his state reels from a brutal spate of wildfires and smoke, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order Wednesday requiring that by 2035 all cars and passenger vehicles sold in the state be zero-emission vehicles.

In a statement, the governor’s office said the order directs the state air pollution regulator, the California Air Resources Board, to craft a mandate to meet that deadline. The order does not prevent the public from owning or using gasoline-powered cars or selling them, Newsom’s office said.

Newsom’s office said CARB would “develop regulations to mandate that all operations of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles shall be 100 percent zero-emission by 2045 where feasible.” Specialized trucks for moving large containers from rail yards and ports would be required to meet the 2035 target.

“This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change,” Newsom said in a statement, adding that the transportation sector accounts for more than half of California’s greenhouse gas emissions. “Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse and create more days filled with smoky air,” he said. “Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”

California, home to more than 30 million registered vehicles, would be the first state to establish a 100-percent zero-emissions mandate on vehicles by 2035. The California New Car Dealers Association, a trade group, expects more than 1.6 million new passenger vehicles will be sold in the state this year.

“This is a giant step forward and continues California’s global leadership in transportation electrification, a key strategy to achieving the state’s ambitious climate goals,” said Anne Smart, vice president of public policy for ChargePoint, a California-besed electric-vehicle charging network. “We believe this will also support job growth in the vehicle fleet and infrastructure industries.”

Newsom agreed, saying, “this is the next global industry, and California wants to dominate it.”

The move to phase out the sale in America’s largest auto market of new gas-powered passenger vehicles, both cars and trucks, could have wide-ranging consequences.
Because its air laws predate federal air laws, California sets its own vehicle-emissions standards and carries enormous clout in the car industry, since car manufacturers largely follow its rules for fear of being locked out of a lucrative market.

Wide standard

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia followed California’s lead in setting stricter standards, meaning the California rules by some estimates cover more than 40 percent of America’s population.

In 2019, the Trump administration attempted to revoke California’s prerogative to set its standards, known as a “waiver” under the Clean Air Act. That move prompted a lawsuit against the EPA in November from California and 22 other states, demanding a federal court block the agency from revoking its long-standing authority. That case is pending before the  U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

In March, the EPA and the Transportation Department formally rolled back federal fuel efficiency rules for passenger cars, reached under the Obama administration, which had set some of the world’s most ambitious fuel economy goals.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has said the Obama-era goals were unreachable for most automobile manufacturers and forced them to raise the price of sport utility vehicles to offset the higher production costs of zero-emission cars, like plug-in electric vehicles.

Under the Trump administration, the rule would require a fleet-wide average of about 40 miles per gallon by 2026. By comparison, the Obama-era rules, issued in 2012, were projected to increase car companies’ fleet-wide averages to 54 miles per gallon by 2025.

Industry response

John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an industry group, said in a statement his organization’s member companies “already offer more than 40 electric car models, and by 2025, that number is expected to more than triple.”

In part, he said, “neither mandates nor bans build successful markets,” adding that electric cars comprise less than 10 percent of California’s vehicle vehicle sales.

“While that is the best in the nation, much more needs to be done to increase consumer demand for Zero Emission Vehicles in order for California to reach its goals,” Bozzella said.

Thomas Pyle, the president of the American Energy Alliance (AEA), an advocacy group favorable to the oil industry, criticized the announcement.

“The governor knows that today’s engines are cleaner, more efficient, and more powerful,” Pyle said. “He also knows that there is no such thing as an environmentally perfect vehicle,” he said. “This is not only a bad idea, and a bad deal for the state of California, it’s insulting to consumers and families.”

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