- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2022

California will phase out sales of gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 under a sweeping proposal approved Thursday, accelerating the transition to electric cars in the name of combating climate change despite widespread concerns about cost, feasibility and strain on the state’s shaky energy grid.

The California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to approve the Advanced Clean Cars II regulations, which require auto manufacturers to meet zero-emission sales targets starting with 35% by the 2026 model year, tripling last year’s figure of 12% in four years.

The ambitious program, spurred by a 2020 executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, culminates in 2035 by mandating that electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and hydrogen-powered cars account for nearly 100% of passenger vehicles that automakers sell to dealerships. That means no vehicles fueled by gasoline or diesel, which are fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases. 

Californians would still be able to drive cars and trucks powered by internal-combustion engines and sell used versions, but the board estimated that the regulations would reduce tailpipe emissions by more than 50% by 2040.

Board members hailed the approval of the regulations as a historic and consequential move toward meeting the state’s goal of achieving a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 1990 levels.

“This is a historic day, and I’m really pleased to be here with all of you to take this step,” said board Chair Liane Randolph.

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Even so, industry representatives raised questions about whether the goal was realistic. They noted the challenges associated with the global supply chain, critical minerals needed for batteries and components, and the nascent vehicle-charging infrastructure.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation said the industry has made massive investments in fleet electrification, but whether automakers can meet the California targets is beyond its control.

“Whether or not these requirements are realistic or achievable is directly linked to external factors like inflation, charging and fuel infrastructure, supply chains, labor, critical mineral availability and pricing, and the ongoing semiconductor shortage,” said alliance President and CEO John Bozzella.

“These are complex, intertwined and global issues well beyond the control of either CARB or the auto industry,” he said.

The board’s decision is expected to have a ripple effect on the national automobile market. California is the only state that may implement its own engine and vehicle standards, contingent on a federal Clean Air Act waiver, and more than a dozen other states have adopted California’s vehicle emissions standards.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said before the vote that his state would follow California’s lead.

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“This is a critical milestone in our climate fight,” Mr. Inslee tweeted. “Washington set in law a goal for all new car sales to be zero emissions by 2030 and we’re ready to adopt California’s regs by [the] end of this year.”

Among those blasting the regulations was Rep. Doug LaMalfa, California Republican, who said that if Californians wanted to drive electric vehicles, “they’d buy them.”

“Unelected bureaucrats don’t get to tell people what they can and can’t buy,” Mr. LaMalfa said in a statement. “At least force the legislators to run a bill, have the arguments and be on the record, not hide behind an appointed bureaucracy. We must stop the government from usurping the power to run your life or decide what you own.”

During Thursday’s public comments ahead of the vote, some speakers asked whether the electricity grid can support the infusion of millions of Teslas and Chevrolet Bolts. About 1 million of the state’s 26 million cars are plug-in electric vehicles.

Several commenters said the state continues to struggle with intermittent brownouts, forcing business owners to shut their doors and send their employees home.

“I think that California is putting all their eggs in one basket with electricity,” said Marcus Gomez, central region director of the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “I think they need to diversify. If we go all-electric, then that leaves California vulnerable to cyberattacks.”

The board’s analysis said the program would result in a net savings of $91 billion from 2026 to 2040. It cited reduced fuel costs and avoided health problems from emissions pollution.

“Once again, California is leading the nation and the world with a regulation that sets ambitious but achievable targets for [zero-emission vehicle] sales,” Ms. Randolph said. “Rapidly accelerating the number of ZEVs on our roads and highways will deliver substantial emission and pollution reductions to all Californians, especially for those who live near roadways and suffer from persistent air pollution.”

Chet Thompson, president and CEO of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, urged President Biden and the Environmental Protection Agency to reject California’s request for a Clean Air Act waiver. He said a waiver would make Mr. Newsom and board members the “car and truck czars for the entire United States.”

“Most Americans have no idea this ban is happening or that California’s extreme policy — providing it gets an EPA waiver — could become law for them, too,” Mr. Thompson said. “Consumers and elected officials in every state who want to retain decision-making power over the types of vehicles they own and drive need to press EPA to deny California’s waiver.”

Others cited concerns about an estimated 85,000 job losses and a hit to the fuel excise tax used for highway and road improvements.

Environmental groups were split on the regulations. Sierra Club California senior policy advocate Daniel Barad cheered the approval and called on other states to “join California and adopt this lifesaving rule, which will improve air quality and slow the climate crisis.”

Less enthusiastic was the Center for Biological Diversity, which said the regulations fall short by, for example, allowing gas-guzzlers to cruise California highways for another 15 to 20 years.

“California needs clean cars now,” said Jack Fleck of 350 Bay Area. “We can’t afford to wait 13 years to phase out fossil fuel cars.”

Critics also argued that most Californians simply can’t afford electric vehicles, which range from $21,000 to $180,000 after the federal tax credit, with an average cost of about $66,000, according to the Kelley Blue Book.

The board ticked off a host of programs aimed at helping residents afford EVs, including Clean Cars 4 All, which provides up to $9,500 for low-income drivers who get rid of their old cars, the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, and the Clean Vehicle Assistance Program.

Advocates also cited the rule’s incentives for manufacturers to reduce costs for low-income buyers and the emergence of a secondary used-car market. Federal funding for charging stations is expected to increase their reach to more remote areas.

Even so, Robert J. Apodaca, vice chair policy director of The Two Hundred, which advocates homeownership, said the board failed to grasp the reality for many residents of California, which has a large rural population in the Central Valley and the nation’s highest poverty rate.

“Families who own a car worth more than $4,650 lose access to key public assistance programs like CalWorks and food subsidies,” he said.

“There are real consequences that the Air Resources Board continues to ignore and refuses to respond to,” Mr. Apodaca said. “Electric vehicles play an important role in the transportation technology of the future. Banning far less costly, reliable and ubiquitous vehicles used by the vast majority of Californians exceeds CARB’s legal authority and its own moral commitment to ending racial injustice.”

The board said it would review the regulatory compliance with the rule every year and the impact on underserved communities at least every three years.

• Kerry Picket and Ramsey Touchberry contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported board Chair Liane Randolph‘s last name. 

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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