The inferno of wildfires that gripped California recently have spurred its governor, Gavin Newsom, to issue an executive order banning the sale of new gasoline and diesel powered cars, minivans, and SUVs by 2035. Medium and heavy duty trucks will face a similar ban in 2045. Vehicle emissions are responsible for more than half of all of California’s carbon pollution, 80 percent of smog-forming pollution and 95 percent of toxic diesel emissions. No wonder communities in the Los Angeles Basin and Central Valley have some of the dirtiest and most toxic air in the country.
“This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change,” says Newsom. “For too many decades, we have allowed cars to pollute the air that our children and families breathe. Californians shouldn’t have to worry if our cars are giving our kids asthma. Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse — and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”
Actually, governor, lots of people are OK with them doing precisely that. There will be a steep uphill battle for you and your administration to get the general population on board with this directive. There are already wild rumors rocketing around the internet about how California is “coming for” private cars. That speculation is similar to the ravings of the gun lobby about how the federal government intends to confiscate all private weapons.
Here’s what is actually going on. Newsom’s executive order does not ban all cars with internal combustion engines. It prohibits the sale of new cars with gasoline or diesel engines starting in 2035. You will still be able to drive your beloved Belchfire 5000 for as long as you can keep it running, so long as it continues to meet the emissions requirements in effect when it was manufactured. You can even sell it to someone else if you are so inclined.
What is unclear at this point is how the order applies to light duty pickup trucks, which happen to be especially popular in California. The Ford F-150 is the best selling vehicle in the state year after year. The order does not refer specifically to pickups but it seems unlikely they are not covered by the order. If we get clarification on that point, we will update this story.
The state’s Air Resources Board along with other relevant agencies are tasked with working together with private parties to create the infrastructure needed to support an EV only future. CARB will also draft rules to eliminate gasoline and diesel power medium and heavy duty trucks by 2045. The order places particular emphasis on creating transportation alternatives for low income neighborhoods, including improved infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists. According to the governor’s office, Newsom’s order also directs the state to make sure taxpayers are not stuck with the bill to safely close and remediate former oil fields. It also calls on the California legislature to end the issuance of new hydraulic fracturing permits by 2024.
The governor’s executive order has been bitterly opposed by auto manufacturers and the oil and gas industry, who complain the new policy will strangle job growth and economic development in the Golden State. No so, says Newsom. “This is the next big global industry and California wants to dominate it,” he says. California already accounts for half of all EV sales in the US.
Critics complain that electric cars are still too expensive but the governor’s office has an answer for that. “By the time the new rule goes into effect, zero-emission vehicles will almost certainly be cheaper and better than the traditional fossil fuel powered cars. The upfront cost of electric vehicles are projected to reach parity with conventional vehicles in just a matter of years, and the cost of owning the car — both in maintenance and how much it costs to power the car mile for mile — is far less than a fossil fuel burning vehicle.”
In fact, Tesla just announced during its Battery Day presentation that it plans to introduce new technologies that will dramatically reduce the cost of batteries for electric cars within a few years. Elon Musk has even indicated he hopes his company will offer an electric car that sells for as little as $25,000 in the foreseeable future.
With its new policy, California is aligning itself with several nations that have proposed a ban on sales of gasoline and diesel powered vehicles. In fact, the UK is actively considering imposing such a ban as early as 2030. The question now is how many of the other 14 US states and jurisdictions that follow the vehicle emissions protocols established by CARB will follow California’s lead. No longer will California be wrestling with how much pollution vehicles can emit. From 2035 on, the new standard will be zero tailpipe emissions, a move the state believes will lower its total emissions by 35%.
The truth is that even a 35% reduction in emissions isn’t enough to slow global heating significantly. But it’s a start. Kudos to California for boldly going where no US state has gone before.