In a dramatic move to tackle climate change, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday ordered state officials to ban new gasoline-powered cars beginning in 15 years.
California has for longer than half a century been a leader in driving new, cleaner car technologies with its regulations. On Wednesday, Newsom raised the stakes: On the hood of a red Ford Mustang Mach-E, an all-electric vehicle expected in dealerships later this year, he signed a new executive order that aims to eliminate new models of traditional cars and put more vehicles powered by clean technologies such as fuel cells and batteries on California’s roads.
The order also tackles fossil fuel pollution before it comes out of tailpipes, tasking California lawmakers with putting an end to new fracking permits by 2024. The Newsom administration’s approval of new oil and natural gas fracking permits this summer has drawn criticism from environmental groups.
Taking aim at Californians’ beloved cars is a risky political move, especially during an economic crisis. And it’s not clear whether a ban would survive in court, according to some legal experts.
Car companies Honda and Ford applauded the announcement. But some automakers, including General Motors, are likely to mount an aggressive campaign to fight the order, saying it is a massive undertaking that requires an overhaul of fuel infrastructure, building codes and consumer demand..
“Neither mandates nor bans build successful markets,” Alliance for Automotive Innovation President and CEO John Bozzella said in a statement. “What builds successful markets is widespread stakeholder engagement: a combination of efforts by federal, state, and local governments, as well as automakers, dealers, utilities, hydrogen providers, electric infrastructure providers, builders, and others.”
California is already waging battles on multiple fronts with the Trump administration over the state’s power to clean its air and cut greenhouse gases that warm the planet. Some political consultants said they are concerned that Newsom’s order will add ammunition for President Donald Trump and other Republicans during their campaigns in the November elections.
But Newsom pitched the proposal as an economic boon. California is home to 34 electric vehicle manufacturers, he said. And electric vehicles make up the state’s second-biggest export, according to Newsom.
“This is the next big global industry, and California wants to dominate it. And that’s in detoxifying and decarbonizing our transportation fleets,” Newsom said. “And so today, California is making a big, bold move in that direction.”
If carmakers oppose the move, they will find themselves “on the wrong side of history,” Newsom said. “And they’ll have to recover economically, not just recover in terms of being able to look their kids and grandkids in the eyes.”
The news comes on the heels of Newsom’s declaration that California is facing “a climate damn emergency.” Wildfires and record-breaking heat have ravaged the state in recent weeks, choking residents with smoke as 3.6 million acres burn. Droughts also are amplified by climate change.
“Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines,” Newsom said Wednesday in a statement.
Newsom’s executive order will not take anybody’s car away. Californians can still drive and resell their gas-powered vehicles. But it does direct the Air Resources Board to phase out sales of new gas-powered passenger vehicles and certain freight trucks by 2035, and medium and heavy duty trucks by 2045.
The rules, once drafted, would have to go through the traditional regulatory process of the Air Resources Board, including legal, economic and environmental analyses, and public comment and hearings.
Oil companies pushed back on the executive order, saying electric cars are unaffordable for most people and fossil fuels must be “part of any solution.”
“It’s interesting that the governor was standing in front of nearly $200,000 worth of electric vehicles as he told Californians that their reliable and affordable cars and trucks would soon be unwelcome in our state,” Cathy Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Assn., said in a statement. “Big and bold ideas are only better if they are affordable for us all and can (be) backed by science, data and needed infrastructure. And, our industry and the energy we provide will be the part of any solution.”
Zero-emission vehicles in 2019 made up only about 2% of the cars on California’s roads, 560,000 out of more than 28.4 million.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents companies with both conventional and battery-powered cars, said that demand for battery-powered cars is low. “Currently, electrified vehicles account for less than 10 percent of new vehicle sales in California,” Bozzella said. “While that is the best in the nation, much more needs to be done to increase consumer demand for Zero Emission Vehicles in order for California to reach its goals.”
Assemblymember Phil Ting, a Democrat from San Francisco who has long pushed for cleaner transportation, supported the governor’s announcement. “The fastest way to make the biggest dent in slowing the effects of global warming is to embrace cleaner cars. Many other countries have already committed to this goal, and I’ve been working tirelessly for years to make this transition happen in California.”
Whatever happens in California with cars usually drives nationwide changes, since the state has such a large percentage of the nation’s vehicles. Fourteen states follow California’s clean-car rules, 11 of which also follow the state’s zero emission vehicles program. Combined, they make up nearly a third of the market for new car sales.