California expected to issue 2035 ban on sale of new gas cars

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California, the nation's most populous state and its largest market for automobiles, is expected to implement a new rule this week to ban the sale of gasoline-powered cars starting in 2035 in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.

The rule, which is to be issued by the California Air Resources Board on Thursday, mandates that in 13 years, 100% of new cars sold in the state will produce zero emissions, the New York Times reported Wednesday. Currently, just 12% of the automobiles sold in California are electric vehicles.

“The climate crisis is solvable if we focus on the big, bold steps necessary to stem the tide of carbon pollution,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement released Wednesday.

Last year, Newsom issued an executive order that tasked the California Air Resources Board with drafting regulations to achieve the goal of phasing out the sale of new gas cars in the state by 2035.

“This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change,” Newsom said in a statement at the time. “For too many decades, we have allowed cars to pollute the air that our children and families breathe. Californians shouldn’t have to worry if our cars are giving our kids asthma. 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.”

The Air Resources Board rule set to go into effect on Thursday is the result of Newsom’s order. Board member Daniel Sperling told CNN that he was “99.9%” confident that the measure will pass.

While the rule bans the sale of new gas passenger automobiles by 2035 in the state, it doesn't prevent Californians from owning or selling used gasoline-powered vehicles. The Air Resources Board is also in the process of readying regulations that would prohibit the sale and operation of gas- and diesel-powered trucks by 2045, but those restrictions will not go into effect on Thursday.

Traffic clogs one of the freeways in Los Angeles
Traffic clogs a freeway in Los Angeles. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

At least some states are expected to follow California’s lead on limiting new gas-powered cars, potentially spurring the transition from fossil fuel sources of energy to renewables. Climate scientists have long warned that more steps are urgently needed to avert the worst consequences of climate change.

The transportation sector represents the largest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Burning fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The buildup of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases like methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) is causing the Earth’s atmosphere to warm, resulting in changes to the climate we are already starting to see today,” the EPA says on its website.

“Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from transportation account for about 27 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest contributor of U.S. GHG emissions,” the EPA continues. “Between 1990 and 2020, GHG emissions in the transportation sector increased more in absolute terms than any other sector.”

In California, a massive state linked by an expansive highway system, transportation accounts for 50% of emissions, Newsom has noted. Released in 2020, California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment painted a grim picture of what the state could expect unless global action was taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Emerging findings for California show that costs associated with direct climate impacts by 2050 are dominated by human mortality, damages to coastal properties, and the potential for droughts and mega-floods,” the report stated. “The costs are in the order of tens of billions of dollars. If global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced substantially from the current business-as-usual trajectory, the economic impacts could be greatly reduced.”

The legal authority for the new California rule on gas cars is a byproduct of President Biden’s restoration of a Clean Air Act waiver that gave the state the ability to set its own automobile pollution and mileage standards. But 17 Republican-led states are challenging that waiver in a lawsuit before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Should the waiver be overturned, California's new rule would be invalidated.

The high cost of gasoline in Garden Grove, Calif.
The high cost of gasoline in Garden Grove, Calif., in March. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

The automobile market is already quickly moving in the direction of the goal laid out in the California rule. What used to be known as the “Big Three” U.S. automakers — General Motors, Ford and Daimler Chrysler — have already pledged to transition their fleets to electric vehicles by 2035, but the new rule would not exempt other automakers.

In June, at a public hearing in Sacramento on the emerging new rule on gas cars, automobile industry representatives voiced concern about meeting a 2035 deadline.

“Subaru fully supports an electric net carbon net zero carbon future, but today’s advanced clean cars proposal aims to set a very challenging path for the U.S. auto industry,” David Barker, environmental activities manager for North American Subaru, said at the meeting, the Times of San Diego reported. “There are very real challenges in meeting consumer demand while at the same time overcoming supply chain disruptions and limited access to critical help. These challenges are amplified for small manufacturers like Subaru.”

This month’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate bill in U.S. history, will also have a profound effect on spurring the transition to renewable sources of energy. But California’s rule goes further than offering incentives, outlawing the sale of new passenger cars on a firm date.