Golden State’s Governor Takes Bold Measures in Effort to Combat Climate Change; Issues Ban On Gas-Powered Cars

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As an unprecedented amount of wild fires continue to ravage the state of California, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-79-20 on September 23, 2020, banning the sale of new gasoline-powered cars and trucks by 2035—an aggressive attempt to combat the effects of climate change.

The order recognizes that bold action is needed to eliminate emissions from transportation, which is the largest source of carbon emissions in the state. The order also notes that zero emissions technologies reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollutants, and that California is a world leader in manufacturing and deploying zero-emission vehicles (ZEV), chargers, and fueling stations. According to Gov. Newsom, previous efforts to combat climate change—such as policies contributing to a reduction in in-state oil extraction by 60 percent since 1985—have not done enough to reduce demand for oil, and therefore, the order is necessary since clean renewable fuels play a role in decarbonizing the transportation sector.

More specifically, the order sets a goal for 100 percent of in-state sales of new passenger cars, trucks, off-road vehicles, and equipment to be zero-emission by 2035, and a further goal for 100 percent of medium and heavy-duty vehicles in the State to be zero-emission by 2045. The State Air Resources Board is instructed to develop and propose regulations increasing the volume of new ZEVs sold in the State in an effort to reach the target zero emission deadlines. Further, the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, along with a number of other State agencies, is required to develop a Zero-Emissions Vehicle Market Development Strategy by January 31, 2021, with updates every three years thereafter.

Although California’s order is the first of its kind in the U.S., similar targets seeking to transition from gasoline vehicles have been set by a number of countries, including France, Ireland, Norway, and even the United Kingdom. The target deadlines in these countries vary from as early as 2025 to 2040. 

The order will almost certainly face scrutiny by the federal government as California is already battling the Trump Administration over the revocation of the state’s Clean Air Act (CAA) waiver that allowed California to set its own vehicle emissions standards and run a ZEV program. The ability for California to get waivers from the Environmental Protection Agency was in the CAA when it was enacted, and the phase-out of sales of new non-ZEVs without a new CAA waiver could present legal challenges.

To get a new CAA waiver, the EPA would have to agree that a 100 percent ZEV target is needed to meet the extraordinary conditions under the statute. Ultimately, whether California receives a new CAA waiver may be a political issue determined by the outcome of the presidential election next month.