California plans to require all new cars, trucks, and SUVs to run on electricity or hydrogen by 2035 under a policy approved Thursday by regulators that seeks a dramatic cut in carbon emissions and an eventual end to gasoline-powered vehicles.
The decision by the powerful California Air Resources Board (CARB) came two years after Gov. Gavin Newsom first directed regulators to consider such a policy, The Associated Press reports. If the goal is reached, California will cut emissions from cars in half by 2040.
“This is a historic moment for California, for our partner states, and for the world as we set forth this path toward a zero-emission future,” said CARB Chair Liane Randolph.
The move gives the most populous U.S. state, which likes to style itself the world’s fifth-largest economy, the world’s most stringent regulations for the transition to electric vehicles. It is expected to prompt other states to follow California’s lead and to accelerate the production of zero-emission vehicles by automakers.
The policy still needs federal approval, but that’s considered very likely under Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration, AP says. A future Republican president, though, could challenge California’s authority to set its own car standards, as the Trump administration did.
Though California’s plan sets the most aggressive roadmap in the nation for the shift to EVs, it does not eliminate passenger vehicles that run on fossil fuels. People can continue driving gas-fueled vehicles and purchasing used ones after 2035. The plan also allows for one-fifth of sales after 2035 to be plug-in hybrids that run on batteries and gas.
But it sets a course for ultimately ending the era of filling up at the local gas station. Massachusetts announced Friday that it will follow California’s lead. Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee said Saturday that his state will develop parallel regulations, on which the public will have a chance to weigh in. By Monday morning, Vermont and Connecticut looked likely to join the party, while Maine Governor Janet Mills said she supports EV rebates but not mandates. AP lists New York and Pennsylvania among the 17 states in total that have some or all of California’s tailpipe emission standards that are stricter than federal rules.
Kia Corporation’s Laurie Holmes said the company plans to spend US$25 billion by 2025 on electric vehicles and hopes to offer seven models by 2027. But she and several other auto company representatives said they’re concerned about the state’s timeline given factors such as supply chain challenges and the high cost of materials to build electric cars.
“Automakers could have significant difficulties meeting this target given elements outside of the control of the industry,” she said.
The switch from gas to electric cars will drastically reduce emissions and air pollutants but the transition will be painful for the state’s oil industry. California remains the United States’ seventh-largest oil-producing state, though its output is falling as it pushes forward with climate goals.
Tanya DeRivi, vice president for climate policy with the Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry group, said California shouldn’t wrap its entire transportation strategy around a vehicle market powered by electricity.
“Californians should be able to choose a vehicle technology, including electric vehicles, that best fits their needs based on availability, affordability, and personal necessity,” she said.
But national business group Advanced Energy Economy applauded the announcement, noting that EV jobs in the U.S. grew 10 times faster than the national average last year.
“This program provides market certainty for automakers, and when combined with the historic clean energy and transportation investments made by Congress, including millions in tax credits for car buyers, puts the U.S. on an achievable path to zero-emissions transportation,” said AEE transportation policy director Ryan Gallentine.
California is the nation’s most populous state, with about 39 million people, AP writes. They account for 10%. of the U.S. car market but have 43% of the nation’s 2.6 million registered plug-in vehicles, according to CARB data.
About 16% of cars sold in California in the first three months of this year were electric, and by 2026 the state wants the number to reach one-third.
Hitting the 100% goal by 2035 will mean overcoming very practical hurdles, notably enough reliable power and charging stations. California now has about 80,000 stations in public places, far short of the 250,000 it wants by 2025. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents many major car makers, flagged the lack of infrastructure, access to materials needed to make batteries, and supply chain issues among the challenges to meeting the state’s timeline.
Indeed, the new commitment comes as California works to maintain reliable electricity while it moves away from gas-fired power plants in favour of solar, wind, and other cleaner sources of energy. Earlier this year, top energy officials warned the state could run out of power during the hottest days of summer, as it briefly did in August 2020.
That hasn’t happened yet this year. But Newsom is pushing to keep open the state’s last remaining nuclear plant beyond its planned closer in 2025, and the state may turn to diesel generators or fossil gas plants as a backup when the grid is strained.
Adding more car chargers will put a higher demand on the energy grid.
Ensuring access to charging stations is also key to ramping up electric vehicle sales. The infrastructure bill passed by the U.S. Congress last year provides $5 billion for states to build chargers every 50 miles (80 kilometres) along interstate highways. Newsom, meanwhile, has pledged to spend billions to boost zero-emission vehicle sales, including by adding chargers in low-income neighbourhoods. The rules say the vehicles need to be able to travel 150 miles on one charge.
Driving an electric vehicle long distances today, even in California, requires careful planning about where to stop and charge, said former CARB chair Mary Nichols. The money from the state and federal government will go a long way to boosting that infrastructure and making electric cars a more convenient option, she said.
“This is going to be a transformative process and the mandate for vehicle sales is only one piece of it,” she said.
Though hydrogen is a fuel option under the new regulations, cars that run on fuel cells have made up less than 1% of car sales in recent years.
Both the state and government have rebates worth thousands of dollars to offset the cost of buying electric cars, and the rules have incentives for car makers to make used electric vehicles available to low- and middle-income people. Over the past 12 years, California has provided more than $1 billion in rebates for the sale of 478,000 electric, plug-in, or hybrid vehicles, according to the air board.
California climate officials say the state’s new policy will be the world’s most ambitious because it sets clear benchmarks for ramping up electric vehicle sales over the next dozen years.
In June, the European Parliament backed a plan to effectively prohibit the sale of gas and diesel cars in the 27-nation bloc by 2035, and Canada has mandated the sale of zero-emission cars by the same year.
This Associated Press story was republished by The Canadian Press on August 25, 2022.