California clean air regulators today unveiled a sweeping proposal demanding increased sales of zero-emission cars, culminating in a ban on new gas-powered cars by 2035.
Rules to force Californians to end their reliance on conventional cars are a critical part of California’s goals to combat climate change and poor air quality.
If adopted by the California Air Resources Board this summer, the regulations would be the first in the world and could pave the way for national standards. At least 15 other states have pledged to follow California’s automotive standards lead on previous clean car rules, and the federal government is generally following suit.
Implementing Governor Gavin Newsom’s 2020 executive order asking the council to end the sale of gasoline-powered cars in California by 2035, the new proposal sets the public regulatory process in motion. Public comments will be collected for 45 days, then a hearing will be held on June 9 and the council is expected to vote in August.
The automakers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the draft rules. But many major manufacturers, including General Motors, have already announced their goal of developing clean car models within a similar timeframe.
“This is an extremely important inflection point. This rule finally puts us firmly on the path to 100% zero-emission vehicles,” said Daniel Sperling, member of the Air Resources Board and founding director of the University of California, Davis Institute of Transportation Studies.
Vehicles that run on gasoline or diesel are the state’s biggest sources of greenhouse gases, smog, and hazardous particulate matter. Under the rule proposed today, about 384 million metric tons less greenhouse gases will be emitted between 2026 and 2040, Air Board staff say — more than the total amount the state emitted in 2019 in its economy.
Under the proposed new mandate, 35% of new cars, SUVs and small pickup trucks sold in the state must be zero emissions starting in 2026, rising to 68% in 2030 and 100% in 2035. Of those, 20 % can be plug-in hybrids.
The rule does not apply to used car sales and would do nothing to force the existing millions of petrol cars off the roads. Only about 2% of cars on California roads were zero emissions in 2020.
California has already passed standards that will require about 8% of new cars sold in the state to be zero emissions by 2025, according to Air Board staff. That goal has already been surpassed: About 12% of new-vehicle sales in California in 2021 were clean cars, according to state data. But the pace would have to triple in just five years to reach the new goal.
One of the biggest obstacles could be the lack of charging stations for electric cars. Nearly 1.2 million chargers will be needed for the 8 million zero-emission vehicles expected in California by 2030, according to a state report. At present, there are only about 70,000, and another 123,000 are on the way, which is far from the case.
Another obstacle is the cost of vehicles. “The cost to automakers will be high per vehicle in the early years, but will decline significantly over time by 2035,” the Air Board staff report said.
The economic benefits of the mandate are expected to exceed the costs: the costs could amount to $289 billion over the life of the rule, while the economic benefits could reach at least $338 billion, or a net benefit of 48 billions of dollars, according to Air Board staff.
Electric cars now cost more to buy, but the price cuts and savings on gas and maintenance would add up, saving consumers about $3,200 over ten years on a car 2026 and $7,500 for a 2035 car, the Air Board calculated.
To address consumer reluctance, manufacturers would be required to meet minimum performance, durability and warranty requirements for zero-emission vehicles. Cars must be able to travel at least 150 miles on a single charge, up from the current mandate of 50 miles, and batteries will need to last longer and have a manufacturer’s warranty.
The goal is to ensure that new and used zero-emission vehicles “can serve as complete replacements for conventional vehicles in every home in California,” the air board said.
Conservationists had raised concerns about previous versions, saying they accelerated too slowly, allowing millions of fossil fuel-powered cars to stay on the roads since the average car is driving for 12 years.
Starting at a 35% sales requirement is “a marked improvement”, said Don Anair, deputy director of research and clean transport program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Still, he says, “it’s sort of the bare minimum. So we really see that as a floor, not a ceiling, to begin with. »
Automakers could meet a small portion of sales targets through 2031 with credits intended to help low-income residents who are disproportionately affected by pollution. For example, they could earn credits for selling new, cheaper zero-emission cars costing less than $20,000 or ensuring the vehicles are offered for resale in the state.
Last year, Newsom approved a $3.9 budget for zero-emission vehicles, which included about $1.2 billion to bolster rebates and other clean car incentives, especially for low-income communities. and disadvantaged. Another $300 million will go towards building charging and refueling infrastructure. This year, Newsom proposed another $10 billion zero-emissions financing package in its January budget proposal..
The state auditor, however, warned the Air Resources Board that it “has generally not determined the effects of its incentive programs on consumer behavior and has therefore overestimated emission reductions. (of greenhouse gases) that its incentive programs make it possible to obtain”.
While battery-powered cars emit no pollutants, the generation of the energy that powers them does. However, air quality regulators say emissions from power generation are much lower than those from vehicles. Much of California’s electricity comes from natural gas, solar, wind, and hydroelectric power.
Other countries are on the same path to phasing out fossil-fuel vehicles, but no state or nation has passed a rule banning them. However, the European Union is considering a sweeping package of climate change laws that would effectively ban fossil fuel cars by requiring a 100% reduction in all carbon dioxide emissions by 2035.
The Washington State Legislature also recently passed a transportation bill that sets a goal that all cars sold, purchased, or registered in the state by 2030 will be electric vehicles. But it’s not a binding regulation like California would be if enacted this summer.
California’s proposal comes as gas prices soar over $5 a gallon in the state. Critics say the Newsom administration sends mixed messages about gas-powered cars by offering rebates to car owners.
The zero-emission vehicle proposal will require US Environmental Protection Agency approval for implementation. Since the 1960s, the state has led the country in cleaning up the car exhaust that creates California’s stifling smog. The federal clean air law gave California the authority to set its own exhaust emission standards.
The Trump administration moved to eliminate that authority, but President Joe Biden’s EPA reversed the decision in March. Newsom called it a “major win for the environment, our economy, and the health of families across the country” and said the state “looks forward to partnering with the Biden administration to make a zero-emissions future a reality for all Americans.”