Placing his executive order on the hood of a red, electric Ford Mustang, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a directive on Wednesday to move California away from traditional, internal combustion engine cars. The order calls on the California Air Resources Board to develop rules allowing only zero-emission cars to be sold in the state by 2035.
If the order — which also sets goals for electrifying or otherwise decarbonizing trucks and off-road vehicles — ultimately becomes a rule, it would mean that gasoline-powered vehicles in California would go the way of the same dinosaurs that fuel them.
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, there were more than 36 million paid vehicle registrations in the state last year, meaning the transition will be a Herculean undertaking. So, what does it mean for you, California drivers and car owners?
What kind of new cars will I be able to buy in 2035?
More nuance will come out over the next year when the California Air Resources Board develops the actual rules and regulations Newsom’s order demanded, but consumers will likely only be able to purchase new passenger vehicles that have zero emissions.
While Newsom said he remains “agnostic” about the type of zero-emission cars sold, electric vehicles are just about the only economically scalable option. Expect to see a lot more Teslas, Chevy Volts and the like sitting in California traffic in 15 years.
Used gasoline-powered cars would still be available for sale.
With a push toward electric vehicles, where are we going to charge our new cars?
It’s an important question, and it’s one without an answer. Vehicles have to carry fuel, whether that’s as electrons in a battery or gas in a tank. Charging stations will need to be built around the highway network just like gas stations were decades ago. Newsom asked several state agencies to work out the question of adequate infrastructure.
The potential impact on the electricity grid from a surge of electric vehicles was not directly addressed in Newsom’s executive order, although that will have to be part of state planning over the next 15 years.
Newsom’s announcement also raised immediate concerns over the accessibility of charging infrastructure — in addition to the affordability of electric vehicles — in rural and low-income areas. This, too, is something Newsom has directed state agencies to consider.
Is my car suddenly illegal?
No, if you purchase a gas-powered car prior to 2035, you can drive it until its wheels fall off.
Can I sell my car?
Yes, any gas-powered car purchased before the 2035 deadline can still be sold on the used market, even after the mandate comes into effect.
Hybrids are cleaner than totally gas-powered cars. How are hybrids impacted?
Any new car that has tailpipe emissions, hybrids included, will be off-limits for sale after 2035, per Newsom’s plan. California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols on Wednesday pointed out that hybrids have moved “closer and closer to zero emissions” anyway and predicted that the 15-year runway will give auto manufacturers time to adapt.
Is this legal?
That remains to be seen. The Newsom administration certainly thinks so, and the air resources board put out a similar but narrower rule in June that mandated all new trucks sold in the state be zero emission by 2045.
However, Newsom’s executive order only does so much, and it mainly calls on the air resources board and other agencies to create rules. It doesn’t actually write the rules itself. Newsom’s rationale for the multi-step approach isn’t entirely clear, but unilateral executive orders are typically harder to defend in court than agency rules and definitely more at risk of being overturned than legislative actions.
Matt DeLorenzo, executive editor of Kelley Blue Book, predicted that the order “will likely be either upheld or struck down in the larger court ruling on whether or not California can set its own vehicle emission standards.” But that litigation still has a long way to go.
Why is Newsom doing this?
The planet is in a climate emergency, and studies show that ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are leading to increased temperatures, rising sea levels, severe weather events and unpredictable precipitation. The state estimates that moving to zero-emission cars will decrease the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions by 35%, which is expected to be accompanied by an 80% reduction in certain noxious gases coming out of vehicles’ tailpipes.
At the same time, California is both home to the country’s largest fleet of electric vehicles and its biggest producer — Tesla — meaning the push could bring the state an even larger share of a rapidly growing industry.
Mark Olalde covers the environment for The Desert Sun. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @MarkOlalde.
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