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California to ban sale of new gas-powered cars in 2035 under Newsom order

San Francisco Chronicle logo San Francisco Chronicle 9/24/2020 By Alexei Koseff and Dustin Gardiner

SACRAMENTO — California will ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars to combat climate change starting in 2035, a move that could help reshape the nation’s automobile market and its output of greenhouse gases.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday mandating that all new passenger vehicles sold in California in 15 years be zero-emission — a category that includes battery-powered electric cars and those that run on hydrogen fuel cells. The order directs the California Air Resources Board to develop a plan for ensuring an increasing number of new vehicles sold in the state leading up to 2035 will be zero-emission.

Older gasoline-powered cars would still be allowed on the road after 2035 and people could sell them on the used-car market, Newsom said.

By issuing the order, Newsom circumvents a potentially bruising battle over the future of gas-powered vehicles in the Legislature, where similar proposals have died in recent years amid oil industry opposition. But it also raises the stakes in a legal fight with the Trump administration over the extent of California’s authority to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases. The White House has already signaled that it will fight the plan.

“If you want to reduce asthma, if you want to mitigate the rise of sea level, if you want to mitigate the loss of ice sheets around the globe, then this is a policy for other states to follow,” Newsom said during a news conference outside the California state fairgrounds, where he signed the executive order on the hood of a red, electric Ford Mustang.

The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, accounting for more than 40% of its planet-warming gases in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available. Transportation emissions have stubbornly grown in recent years, even as the state dramatically reduced its output overall. California officials estimate that requiring all new passenger cars and trucks to be zero-emission would reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by more than a third.

The order could influence not just the kind of cars available in California, but also in the rest of the United States. California is by far the country’s largest vehicle market by state, and makers are reluctant to tailor one fleet for it and a second for the rest of the nation.

The Trump administration immediately criticized Newsom’s order. White House spokesman Judd Deere called the 2035 target a job killer, though it was unclear if the administration would take legal action.

“They want the government to dictate every aspect of every American’s life, and the lengths to which they will go to destroy jobs and raise costs on the consumer is alarming,” Deere said in an email. “President Trump won’t stand for it.”

Several of the nation’s largest automakers, including GM and Fiat Chrysler, referred questions to an industry lobby. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade association, said Newsom’s order won’t increase consumer demand for electric cars without more robust rebates for buyers.

Fewer than 6% of cars sold in California last year were zero-emission vehicles. Electric cars are typically thousands of dollars more expensive than comparable gas-powered models, though Newsom said advances in battery technology would gradually bring down the price of electric vehicles.

“Neither mandates nor bans build successful markets,” John Bozzella, president of the automotive industry group, said in a statement. “Much more needs to be done for California to reach its goals.”

The state budget for the current year cuts nearly all funding for rebates for electric-car buyers. On Wednesday, Newsom noted that the state is struggling with a record budget shortfall, though he suggested new incentives for buyers are likely to come in his January budget proposal.

Newsom’s vision faces another practical hurdle: California’s electric-vehicle charging infrastructure has major gaps. If nothing changes, the state could have about 81,600 fewer public and shared charging ports than it needs by 2025, according to the California Energy Commission.

Clean-car advocates say that could limit the state’s ability to transition away from gas-powered vehicles. Newsom’s order calls on the Air Resources Board and other state entities to “accelerate deployment” of charging stations.

The governor’s announcement follows similar pledges by countries including the United Kingdom and France to transition entirely to sales of new zero-emissions vehicles over the coming decades.

The sales ban will include hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles, which still use some gasoline or diesel in addition to electricity and make up more than half the new green cars currently sold in the state. Mary Nichols, chair of the Air Resources Board, said that electric vehicle technology is advancing quickly and that California’s 2035 target will push the industry to adapt even faster.

“We see this 15-year period as one during which, by the end of it, people will recognize that, yes, they can find a full zero-emission vehicle that meets all of their needs,” she said.

For weeks, as large swaths of California have burned in a record wildfire season, Newsom has sounded the alarm on the “climate damn emergency” that is contributing to more severe fires, and has said the state must move more swiftly to combat it.

But he has been criticized by environmentalists who say he has failed to back up his rhetoric. Activists are particularly incensed that his administration has not limited oil and gas drilling. Instead, it issued more new permits in the first half of 2020 than over the same six months of 2019.

Some environmentalists reacted with skepticism Wednesday to Newsom’s executive order because it did not deal with oil production.

“It leaves out the other half of the equation. No climate policy can succeed unless it limits the amount of fossil fuels that are produced,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. The center announced this week its intent to sue California over well permits that it says have been issued without proper environmental review.

Siegel said the ban on new gas-powered vehicles is a necessary step, but a target date of 2035 is still too slow to get California to its goal of carbon neutrality by 2045.

Delia Ridge Creamer, an organizer for Sunrise Bay Area, an advocacy group, said Newsom should immediately stop issuing permits that allow companies to drill new oil and gas wells.

“It’s a grand show,” Ridge Creamer said. “But if you look at the actual executive order, it doesn’t meet the scale of the moment.”

Newsom said his order would accelerate California’s transition away from fossil fuels. He said he would ask the Legislature to pass a law ending the issuance by 2024 of new permits for hydraulic fracturing, the natural gas extraction method also known as fracking, which releases large amounts of carbon dioxide and another greenhouse gas, methane.

Earlier this summer, California adopted a first-in-the-nation requirement that would mandate that automakers begin selling zero-emission big rigs starting in 2024 and would force most new trucks to go emissions-free by 2035.

Newsom has also struck deals with five car companies — BMW, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and Volvo — to boost the fuel efficiency of their new models above federal targets.

After Newsom announced an agreement with the first four automakers last summer, the Trump administration moved to revoke a waiver that has given the state the ability under the Clean Air Act to set stricter emissions standards on vehicles for nearly five decades. California immediately filed suit to retain the waiver.

If the courts side with the federal government, California would lose the authority it has relied on for many of its leading climate policies, including Newsom’s latest executive order banning the sale of new gas-powered vehicles after 2035.

The governor said he nevertheless opted not to pursue the ban through the Legislature because “this moment demands leadership and demands movement.”

Democratic lawmakers largely praised Newsom’s order, but some Republicans, who make up a superminority of both houses, slammed him for circumventing the legislative process. Senate Republican leader Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, a major oil-producing region of the state, said Newsom’s “extremist policies” would destroy jobs, further strain the state’s electric grid and drive up energy costs for millions of Californians already living in poverty.

Alexei Koseff and Dustin Gardiner are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: alexei.koseff@sfchronicle.com, dustin.gardiner@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @akoseff, @dustingardiner

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