California To Stop Sales of New Gas-Fueled Vehicles by 2035

Earlier this week, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-79-20, which ends the sale of new gasoline- and diesel-powered passenger cars in California by the year 2035. The order empowers the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) to establish a plan for requiring automakers to sell increasing numbers of zero-emissions passengers vehicles year-by-year until they comprise one hundred percent of all new car sales within fifteen years. The order also provides a goal for medium and heavy duty vehicles (i.e., trucks and construction equipment) to be zero-emissions by 2045. The order applies only to new car sales and does not prohibit owning or selling used gas-powered cars. Other provisions in Newsom’s order calls upon lawmakers to stop issuing new fracking permits by 2024.

Newsom cited the climate crisis as the most immediate problem facing California as a state. Climate change is a major contributing factor to the disastrous forest fires currently raging throughout the state; scientists have determined wildfires have become faster-moving and more destructive because of a warmer climate. Transportation is responsible for more than half of all carbon pollution in California. Newsom’s project would tackle a significant chunk of the emissions that cause climate change in the largest car market in the United States.

The project would also increase electrical vehicle sales where, as of July 2020, just over 6% of light vehicles were electric powered (compared with 1.6% in the country as a whole). Though California is the first U.S. state to commit to this kind of goal, it joins seventeen other countries who have adopted similar goals to phase out internal combustion passenger cars. These kinds of bans have been gaining in popularity across Europe over the past couple of years. The first was in Norway, where in 2017 a target was made to reach no carbon emissions for new passenger cars and light vans by 2025. Several countries followed Norway’s lead, including France (ending sales of fossil-fuel powered vehicles by 2040), the U.K. (eliminating internal combustion engines, hybrids by 2035), and Canada (100% electric vehicles by 2040). Newsom’s order is a step beyond Europe’s orders because it includes regulations for trucks, construction vehicles, and virtually every piece of on-road internal combustion equipment.

Given California’s size and its history as a leader for the nation on regulatory issues, it’s likely some other states would follow suit and adopt similar phase-out policies for internal combustion passenger cars. An indication that this may be the case came in the form of Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s praise of Newsom’s order on Twitter, where she wrote: “I will do all I can to accelerate electrification here.”

Newsom’s announcement was criticized by the Trump Administration, who claimed the executive order was an example of “the left’s” extremism. “They want the government to dictate every aspect of every American’s life, and the lengths to which they will go to destroy jobs and raise costs on the consumer is alarming,” said Judd Deere, a White House spokesman. The Trump administration is already in the middle of litigation with the state of California over its authority to regulate tailpipe emissions under the Clean Air Act. That case is presently being heard before a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.

Newsom’s order would be enforceable under the same part of the Clean Air Act. As such its future enforcement likely hangs in the balance with the Supreme Court vacancy created by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, the potential appointment of her replacement by Donald Trump and his/her confirmation by the Senate, and the results of the November election. If Trump nominates a conservative Justice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the coming weeks, that Justice might be confirmed by the Senate before the election to form a super majority conservative Supreme Court of 6-3. Were Trump to then win (or “win”) the election, then it’s likely Trump would challenge California’s authority to enforce Newsom’s order. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court, in that event, might strike down California’s authority under the Clean Air Act.

If Joe Biden were to win, it’s unlikely he would challenge the California executive order.

Though the automotive industry agrees that it’s time to expand electric-vehicle offerings, not everyone is anxious to phase out internal combustion vehicles altogether. Some industry representatives caution that forcing these changes through legislation and/or regulations is not the way to go. Brian Maas, president of the California New Car Dealers Association, released a statement commending the governors efforts to combat climate change but signaling he has “many unanswered questions about fundamental components” of the order and how it will be executed.

A spokesman for Ford Motor Company said, “We agree with Gov. Newsom that it is time to take urgent action to address climate change….Progress requires public-private partnerships, smart infrastructure and key resources that encourage consumers to invest in electrified products.” There are concerns about the lack of public charging stations, and the need to reduce costs of zero-emission vehicles, which are currently cost-prohibitive for many consumers.

Both houses of California’s legislature said they support Newsom’s executive order. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said they look forward to passing necessary legislation to further bolster this order into law.

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