Gavin Newsom orders California to ban new gas-powered cars by 2035


Gov. Gavin Newsom signs an executive order concerning electric vehicles on Sept. 23, 2020. (Photo: California Environmental Protection Agency)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that calls for a ban on the sale of new gasoline-powered cars and other passenger vehicles in the state by 2035. The move was among a number of actions the Democratic governor announced to slash the state’s greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.

The executive order will not prevent Californians from owning gasoline-powered cars or selling them on the used car market.

Hydraulic fracturing, a method of oil and gas extraction also known as fracking, could also be on the Golden State’s chopping block. Newsom said he is working with the California Legislature to ban the practice by 2024. The order also aims to create new health and safety regulations “that protect workers and communities from the impacts of oil extraction,” but it was scarce on details.

Newsom made his announcement while standing in front of a line of electric vehicles from brands including Audi and Tesla, and he signed it on the hood of a red, electric Ford Mustang Mach-E SUV. He was flanked by California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot, and billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, among others.*

“Of all the simultaneous crises that we face as a state and I’d argue as a nation — for that matter from a global perspective — none is more important, none is more forceful than the issue of the climate crisis,” Newsom said.

His executive order begins by stating that “the climate change crisis is happening now, impacting California in unprecedented ways, and affecting the health and safety of too many Californians.” It goes on to note the impact of the economic devastation wrought by COVID-19, saying that “as our economy recovers, we must accelerate the transition to a carbon-neutral future,” including an emphasis on getting climate solutions to low-income areas. Video of Newsom’s announcement can be viewed here.

According to the state, the transportation sector accounts for more than half of California’s carbon emissions, 80% of its smog-forming pollution and 95% of diesel emissions. California, the nation’s most populous state, has about 40 million people, and there were more than 36 million paid vehicle registrations in the state in 2019, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Although California made up about 12% of the country’s population, it accounted for nearly 50% of the new electric vehicles sold around the country between 2010 and 2017, according to research from International Council on Clean Transportation. Newsom said that roughly 726,000 electric vehicles are on California roads.

A Nissan Leaf charges at an electric vehicle charging station. (Photo: Rick Bowmer, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Nichols said new hybrids will not be allowed to be sold once 2035 rolls around, but “as the hybrids get more and more advanced, they get closer and closer to zero emissions.”

Newsom added that there are 34 manufacturers of electric vehicles in California, the most of any state in the country, with a combined market capitalization of nearly $500 billion. He said the state’s second-largest export is electric vehicles, and the green economy “broadly defined” accounts for five times as many jobs in the state as the oil and gas industry.

“This is the next big global industry,” Newsom said, “and California wants to dominate it.” He noted that California-based Tesla, for example, had said just this week that it expects to produce a $25,000 electric car within three years due to advances in battery technology.

The governor said California’s move would push U.S. auto manufacturers to “enhance and advance” their competitiveness globally and noted that other countries including China, Japan and Israel have also set benchmarks for adopting electric vehicles. He praised Ford as one automaker that “gets it” but said others have yet to. “They are on the wrong side of history,” Newsom said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announces an executive order on Sept. 23, 2020, that will have the state halt sales of new gasoline-powered passenger cars by 2035. At right is California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols. (Photo: Daniel Kim, AP)

The executive order sets July of next year as an important month when multiple reports and recommendations are due on topics ranging from incentivizing the electric vehicle market to the responsible closure and cleanup of oil wells.

The air board will be tasked with developing the regulations mandating that all cars sold in-state beginning in 2035 are “zero-emission” vehicles. The state predicts that the move will result in a more than 35% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an 80% reduction in certain toxic fumes present in vehicle exhaust.

The board will be responsible for creating additional regulations mandating zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty trucks by 2045 “where feasible,” the governor said. Newsom’s order also instructs the state to greatly expand charging infrastructure to support the expected surge in electric vehicles.

The executive order also sets a goal for 100% zero-emission off-road vehicles by 2035.

Sales of plug-in electric vehicles have grown quickly over the past decade, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, although the number sold across the country dropped slightly between 2018 and 2019.

Newsom said that even though the state’s huge budget shortfall caused by the coronavirus pandemic has reduced electric car rebates, the order would push new incentives. He remained vague on what those were, saying there would be more clarity in his upcoming budget proposal in January.

Some environmental groups lauded Newsom’s move on electric vehicles.

“What’s particularly powerful about these actions are the international impact they will have. As the 5th-largest economy in the world, these mandates will have a ripple effect by increasing clean transportation options globally,” Mary Creasman, CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.

But state Assemblymember Devon Mathis, a Republican whose district includes the southern Sierra Nevada that is now being scorched by the SQF Complex Fire, said he was concerned the governor’s move would disproportionately hurt rural residents who live in areas lacking robust transportation infrastructure.

“It’s easy to blame (climate change) on car emissions, but a lot of people in disadvantaged areas can’t afford electric cars. Our farmworker population doesn’t have the money to go out and buy these things,” Mathis said. “The San Joaquin Valley also doesn’t have many (electric vehicle) charging stations available, and our power grid isn’t equipped for that.”

Brian Maas, president of the California New Car Dealers Association, issued a statement cautioning against moving too quickly without more charging infrastructure, consumer buy-in and progress on already existing electric vehicle sales goals. He said that bypassing the Legislature with an executive action was “deeply troubling and deprives Californians of a direct voice in this important issue.”

The car industry had mixed reactions to Newsom’s announcement. Ford spokesperson Rachel McCleery said, “We agree with Gov. Newsom that it’s time to take urgent action to address climate change.”

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents auto manufacturers including General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, released a statement from John Bozzella, its president and CEO, that said the electric vehicle market is necessary for the success of its members.

“But neither mandates nor bans build successful markets. What builds successful markets is widespread stakeholder engagement,” Bozzella said.

A number of environmental groups, meanwhile, criticized Newsom for not going far enough in taking on oil.

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Oilfield infrastructure dominates the landscape at the densely developed Kern River oil field just outside of Bakersfield, California, Feb. 20, 2020. (Photo: Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)

“Setting a timeline to eliminate petroleum vehicles is a big step, but Newsom’s announcement provided rhetoric rather than real action on the other critical half of the climate problem — California’s dirty oil production,” Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said in a statement.

Environmental groups have called on Newsom to ban fracking and institute a buffer zone between oil wells and populated areas.

Caroline Henderson, senior climate campaigner with Greenpeace USA, said: “Vague statements of support won’t fix the climate crisis, nor will they protect the wellbeing of frontline communities living near drilling sites.”

The five hottest years on years in recorded human history have been the past five years, and atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions have spiraled well above what scientists labeled as safe levels. While Newsom was touring one of the fires that have torched more than 3 million acres in California this year, shattering the previous record, he said, “This is a climate damn emergency.”

In June, the air resources board passed new rules calling for all new trucks sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2045. The state is also locked in a legal battle with the Trump administration over passenger vehicle fuel efficiency standards, one of about 50 environmental lawsuits that state Attorney General Xavier Becerra has launched against the Trump administration.

Newsom said he had recently heard a pundit describe California as “a nature hike through the Book of Revelations” and the governor said the state needed to deliver “more than platitudes” on climate change. He said the state is working on additional, related executive orders but did not provide details.

As far as this order, Newsom said, it was intended to be “as bold as the problem is big.”

*Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the exact make of Ford Mustang that Newsom signed his order on.

Joshua Yeager from the Visalia Times-Delta and Julie Makinen from The Desert Sun contributed to this report.

Janet Wilson and Mark Olalde cover the environment for The Desert Sun. Get in touch at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @janetwilson66 and @MarkOlalde.

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