California plans to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars statewide by 2035, Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Wednesday, in a dramatic step aimed at accelerating the state’s efforts to combat global warming amid a deadly and record-breaking wildfire season.
In an executive order, Governor Newsom directed California’s regulators to develop a plan that would require automakers to sell steadily more zero-emissions passenger vehicles in the state, such as battery-powered or hydrogen-powered cars and pickup trucks, until they made up 100 percent of new auto sales just 15 years from today.
The plan would also set a goal for all heavy-duty trucks on the road in California to be zero emissions by 2045 where possible.
“This is the next big global industry,” Governor Newsom said at a news conference on Wednesday, referring to clean-energy technologies such as electric vehicles. “And California wants to dominate it.”
California has long cast itself as a global leader on climate-change policy, having already passed a law to get 100 percent of its electricity from wind, solar and other sources that don’t produce carbon dioxide by 2045. But in recent weeks, as the state has been scorched by record wildfires partly driven by rising temperatures, Governor Newsom has found himself pressured to act even faster.
Ramping up sales of emissions-free vehicles in California will be an enormous challenge over a relatively short period of time, experts said. Last year, only about 8 percent of the nearly two million passenger vehicles sold statewide were battery-electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. Transportation remains California’s largest source of planet-warming emissions, accounting for roughly 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gases from human activity.
“We have a strategy to be as bold as the problem is big, to recognize that we have agency,” Governor Newsom said. “We’re not just victims of fate.”
In addition to setting new standards for automakers in the state, California will also likely need to increase financial incentives for people to afford electric vehicles and significantly expand its charging infrastructure, said Don Anair, deputy director of the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group.
“It’s feasible, but it’s going to take California pulling all the levers at its disposal,” Mr. Anair said.
The order would affect only new-vehicle sales, the governor’s office said. It would not prevent Californians from owning cars with internal combustion engines past 2035 or selling them on the used-vehicle market.
The new executive order would build on the state’s existing vehicle policies. California’s regulators have already set a goal of putting five million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030. In June, the state adopted a landmark rule requiring more than half of all trucks sold in the state to be zero-emissions by 2035.
But today’s step would go much further. Although 15 countries have already announced plans to phase out sales of vehicles with internal combustion engines in the coming decades — including Britain, Denmark and Norway — California would be the first jurisdiction in the United States to do so.
Environmental groups had mixed reactions to Governor Newsom’s announcement. While they applauded the new goal for zero-emissions vehicles, they noted that California remained one of the country’s largest oil and gas producers.
In his executive order, Governor Newsom said that he would look to end new permits for hydraulic fracturing, a technique used by energy companies to extract oil and gas, by 2024. But the order was much less explicit on how the state would do so.
“Setting a timeline to eliminate petroleum vehicles is a big step, but Newsom’s announcement provided rhetoric rather than real action on the other critical half of the climate problem — California’s dirty oil production,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.
“Newsom can’t claim climate leadership while handing out permits to oil companies to drill and frack,” Ms. Siegel said. “He has the power to protect Californians from oil industry pollution, and he needs to use it, not pass the buck.”
Asked why he is moving forward with the electric car mandate by executive order rather than asking the legislature to approve it, Governor Newsom cited the example of the state’s new rule requiring all trucks sold in California to be zero-emissions by 2045, which was rolled out with the state’s clean air regulator, the California Air Resources Board.
“This moment demands leadership, it demands movement,” Governor Newsom said, adding that the truck rule is now being replicated in other states.
There is one key complication in California’s move: The Trump administration has challenged the state’s authority to set its own pollution standards for cars and trucks as part of its rollback of Obama-era vehicle efficiency rules. California has defended its authority to set its own rules under the 1970 Clean Air Act, but that dispute has yet to be settled by the courts.
Mary Nichols, the chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, said that she expected the state to be taken to court over the regulations. “We’ll get there eventually,” she said on Wednesday at the news conference, where the governor stood before a glittering half-circle of electric cars.
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