Newsom Directs California to End Sales of New Gas-Powered Cars and Trucks

California will halt sales of new gasoline-powered passenger cars and trucks by 2035, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday, a move he says will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 35% in the nation’s most populous state.

The executive order would not ban people from owning gas-powered cars or selling them on the used car market. But it would end the sales of all new gasoline-powered passenger cars and trucks in the state of nearly 40 million people.

Newsom’s order directs the California Air Resources Board to develop and approve regulations to meet the deadline, requiring "increasing volumes of new zero-emission vehicles sold in the state" until the 100% target in 2035. The governor also ordered the board to make a rule requiring that all medium and heavy-duty trucks be 100% zero-emission by 2045, “where feasible.”

“Pull away from the gas pumps,” Newsom said at a press conference. “Let us no longer be victims of geopolitical dictators that manipulate global supply chains and global markets.”

California and the roughly dozen states that follow its lead on auto emissions standards make up a significant part of the U.S. auto market, giving the day’s move huge potential impact for the U.S. automobile industry as well as for long-term efforts against pollution and climate change, which is driven by fossil-fuel emissions. It also is likely to meet opposition from President Trump, who wants to roll back tougher Obama-era auto emissions standards and is battling California to force it to comply.

After Newsom's announcement, the White House signaled its displeasure with the move. Administration spokesman Judd Deere said Newsom's order will hurt the economy and is “yet another example of how extreme the left has become. They want the government to dictate every aspect of every Americans’ life."

Watch today's announcement and press conference with Gov. Gavin Newsom

California already has rules mandating that a certain percentage of new car sales be electric or zero-emission vehicles. The new rule, if implemented, would make California the first U.S. state with a plan to phase them out completely. The state has a goal of relying 100% on clean, renewable energy by 2045. Gasoline and diesel-powered cars and trucks are the biggest impediment to reaching that target, as they account for more than half of the state's carbon pollution.

At least 15 other countries, including Germany, France and Norway, have made similar commitments to eliminating gas-powered vehicles.

In addition to the directive on cars and trucks, Newsom ordered state agencies to speed up development of charging stations across the state.

To accommodate all the new electric vehicles, California will certainly need to install many more charging stations, especially in places where people work, says Michael Wara, director of Stanford's Climate and Energy Policy Program. The state should incentivize people to charge their cars during the day, he says, when solar energy is most abundant, and not at night, which is usually more convenient but will draw on more nonrenewable energy.

“If we can accomplish that goal, managing grid stability will not be a challenge," Wara said.

While implementation of the order would help reduce pollution, says Fraser Shilling, co-director of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis, production of all the new electric vehicles would still consume a significant amount of energy, including from fossil fuels.

“Electric vehicles have their own carbon footprint,” he said. “The popular thing from an environmental point of view is to say, 'This is great, this will help us deal with climate change because we're reducing gasoline and diesel burning vehicles on roads. But it's also important to keep our eye on the ball that not all of transportation's impacts on the environment are solved by electrification."

John Bozzella, president of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an industry group, said in a statement that while car companies are "committed to expanding vehicle electrification ... neither mandates nor bans build successful markets."

Newsom's executive order "will require increased infrastructure, incentives, fleet requirements, building codes, and much more," Bozzella said.

Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at the Edmunds.com auto pricing site, said Newsom's announcement “does seem like this is a significant shot fired against" the internal combustion engine.

She expects the California announcement to trigger high-level meetings at all the auto companies that were moving toward electric vehicles but didn’t expect a zero-emissions mandate in 15 years. Automakers may have to rethink manufacturing and capital spending plans because of the requirement, she said.

Gas Vehicles Still Dominate

California has more electric vehicles on the road than any other state, according to federal data, and Newsom said half of all U.S. electric cars are driven here. In the first quarter of 2020, an electric car, the Tesla Model 3, was the top selling new car model in California for the first time, edging out the Honda Civic, according to the California New Car Dealers Association.

But despite the gains, combustion engines in cars and trucks still dominate the state's highways and roads. California registered 99,704 new electric cars and trucks in 2019, which was 5.3% of the market, according to the car dealer association.

Last year, the state stopped offering rebates for buyers of electric cars or plug-in hybrid vehicles that cost more than $60,000. State air regulators also reduced the standard rebate by $500 per vehicle, from $2,500 to $2,000 for all-electric cars. In addition, it eliminated rebates for plug-in hybrid cars with an electric-battery range of less than 35 miles.

When asked what incentives he plans for encouraging Californians to buy electric cars, Newsom said the state would continue "the tried and true policies" of encouraging adoption through credits, vouchers and rebates. He said electric vehicle use has "grown exponentially," with "more models, more choice for consumers. The cost is beginning to decline, and we're just a few years away from parity.”

Also on Wednesday, Newsom called on the Legislature to eliminate new fracking licenses by 2024.

Fracking is a technique that allows energy companies to extract huge volumes of oil and gas from shale rock deep underground. It involves injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals into rock. Fracking opponents say the chemicals involved threaten water supplies and public health.

Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, called Newsom's order “a big step,” but said it “provided rhetoric rather than real action on the other critical half of the climate problem — California's dirty oil production.”

“Newsom can't claim climate leadership while handing out permits to oil companies to drill and frack,” she said. “He has the power to protect Californians from oil industry pollution, and he needs to use it, not pass the buck.”

The order comes as massive wildfires have burned a record 5,600 square miles (14,500 square kilometers) in California this year. Experts say the size and intensity of the fires are aided by warmer temperatures and years of drought brought on by climate change.

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