California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to end the sale of new gasoline and diesel-powered passenger cars in the state by 2035. He is doing this because he says he believes climate change is the cause of wild fires in the state and he believes that banning new sales of the internal combustion engine vehicles will somehow fix what his mismanagement of the state’s forests has caused. He did not address the fact that carbon dioxide emissions result from the manufacture of all vehicles, including electric vehicles, and that most electricity in this country (62 percent) is produced from fossil fuels, largely coal and natural gas. He also neglects the fact that most Americans (98 percent) prefer internal combustion engine vehicles, where they can choose the price, size, safety features, range, storage capacity, refueling options, and other attributes that they need for their life style. Only 1.6 percent of the nation currently own an electric vehicle and many of those vehicle owners also own a gasoline or diesel vehicle as well. The electric car for many of its owners is a statement of ostensible concern for the environment.
According to Newsom, California residents would still be able to own gasoline or diesel vehicles and sell them on the used market after 2035. But, the governor’s executive order raises questions about the logistics and equity of the transition from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles. Car-dependent California tried to make this transition before with little luck. In 1990, a mandate required 2 percent of new cars sold in California by 1998 to be zero-emission vehicles. At the time, few models complied and they were small and had limited ranges, resulting in the mandate being unsuccessful.
Because of the higher cost of electric vehicles and a lack of a vibrant second-hand market for them, Newsom is putting Californians into a financial dilemma of not being able to afford a vehicle, which is needed to commute to jobs, take children to after-school activities, shop for groceries and other essentials, and shuttle the old, disabled, and sick to doctors’ offices and hospitals. For those who require a sturdy and capable vehicle for their jobs—construction workers, tradesmen and women and the like, additional burdens will occur.
What Authority Does Newsom Have for the Ban?
Under the Clean Air Act of 1970, California was given special waiver authority to set more stringent air quality standards due to their unique air quality problems and geography, with each standard needing waiver approval from the EPA. In the 2000’s, California applied for a waiver to impose tailpipe greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards. The waiver was initially denied by the Bush administration, but the denial was reversed by the Obama administration. In addition to the tailpipe GHG waiver, the Obama administration also approved a waiver for California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which requires a certain percentage of cars sold to have zero GHG emissions. The mechanism for Governor Newsom’s new mandate is the ZEV program, mandating 100% ZEV vehicles by 2035. The Trump administration has revoked both waivers, contending the waivers conflict with other federal laws. A lawsuit is currently before a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. challenging this revocation.
President Trump revoked California’s waiver and instituted a single federal emissions standard, which would lower auto prices for consumers, create jobs and safer vehicles, while still lowering emissions.
Newsom’s executive order also states that, “where feasible,” medium- and heavy-duty vehicles such as trucks and construction equipment should be zero-emission by 2045. The order also called for agencies to craft “an integrated, statewide rail and transit network,” despite Newsom lowering the scope of the state’s high speed rail project a year or so ago. The estimated cost of the initial high speed rail line has ballooned to $80.3 billion. Newsom also outlined plans to support more bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, especially in low-income and disadvantaged communities.
Governor Newsom directed agencies to develop a zero-emission vehicle market development strategy by the end of January and update it every three years. He also asked them to accelerate existing efforts on establishing charge ports.
If California wins the court battle, which may end up in the Supreme Court, the California Air Resources Board will be charged with developing the specific regulations needed to implement the state mandate for passenger cars and trucks. According to Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, California wants to phase out hybrid vehicles over the next 15 years and have Californians purchase only fully electric cars.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group that represents major U.S. and overseas-based auto manufacturers, indicated that mandates are not the best way to implement change. Successful markets need widespread stakeholder engagement, among governments, auto makers, utilities, infrastructure providers and others. While California has the best sales data in the nation for electric vehicles (6.2 percent) due mainly to state financial incentives and subsidies, California still needs increased infrastructure, more incentives, fleet requirements, building codes, and much more to accomplish Newsom’s directive.
The California New Car Dealers Association expressed concerns over the need to greatly expand public charging infrastructure and to drive down costs of zero-emission vehicles so they are not available only to the wealthy as they are today. Also, enacting a major piece of policy through an executive order, without legislative approval, deprives Californians a direct voice on the issue.
California business groups, from the California Chamber of Commerce to the California Manufacturers & Technology Association, criticized the executive order as unrealistic. According to the California Business Roundtable, the radical step to ban internal combustion engines makes no sense and is a rushed decision, with no guarantee of affordability for many who live in an already-expensive state.
System-Wide Changes Are Needed
A shift from gasoline and diesel to electric vehicles will require a new charging infrastructure. The state’s electric grid, which experienced two days of rolling black-outs recently due to a heat wave will need to be significantly upgraded to handle the new demand. The state’s largest utilities have also shut off large sections of their grids to stop their power lines from sparking wildfires on windy days.
The state’s electric grid has proven unreliable because the state adopted a law in 2017 to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels. Further, California’s renewable portfolio standard mandates that 60 percent of its electricity must come from renewable energy by 2030. Renewables account for about a third of the state’s electricity and much of it is intermittent solar and wind power, which stress the system more as their percentage of total generation increases.
Governor Newsom is taking choice away from California residents, banning the sale of internal combustion vehicles by 2035. As industry executives have indicated, mandates are not the way to implement such a change because its massiveness requires a public-private partnership to establish the infrastructure and to make electric vehicles affordable to the general public. Further, it will require massive and expensive changes to the grid, which is already heavily stressed due to increasing intermittent sourcing of electricity.
Newsom’s timing is awkward given that the state has barely opened up from the lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic and California residents are already hurting from the lack of jobs and normalcy, and saddled with a grid that cannot handle existing demands for electricity. Yet, the Governor wants to put more restrictions on them while increasing demands for electricity.