With the push to electrify the nation’s roads, California is leading the fleet. The state is moving full steam ahead with a plan to phase out gas-powered vehicles, by banning the sale of new gas cars by 2035. On Thursday, the California Air Resources Board, the state’s chief air pollution regulator voted overwhelmingly for the policy.
In accordance with the new law, all new cars, trucks, and SUVs sold in the state must be powered by electricity or hydrogen. The law does not eliminate gas cars, as people can continue driving gas-fueled vehicles and purchasing used ones after 2035. Additionally, the plan allows for one-fifth of sales after 2035 to be plug-in hybrids that can run on batteries and gas.
Yet, the impending law marks an ambitious and necessary step toward reducing the state’s emissions. California sells the most new cars per year in the country.
In 2021, the state’s 1.85 million new units accounted for almost 12 percent of the total car sales in the U.S. With California leading the nation’s car sales, mandating new EVs in the state alone would remove 395 million tons of carbon emissions from the atmosphere.
That car-sized dent in America’s 4,460 million emission figure, would reduce the nation’s emissions by 8 percent, gassing up the 40 percent emission reductions estimated to come from the Inflation Reduction Act.
Will other states follow suit?
Other states are expected to follow California’s lead. According to Ethan Elkind, director of the Climate Program at the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment at UC Berkeley Law, California historically leads the way regarding emissions due to a carve-out in the US Clean Air Act. Not only is California the only state that can make emissions standard mandates beyond the federal government, the law also permits other US states to adopt California's standards without the federal government's approval, Elkind told Business Insider.
As of May 2022, 17 states have signed on to adopt California’s Low-Emission Vehicle (LEV) criteria,
pollutant and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission regulations, and Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV). While there is no requirement for these states to follow through on adopting California’s new EV regulation, many are poised to do so. If they do, it will mark a significant tipping point, putting the electric vehicle industry on the up and up, and America’s emissions on the opposite road.
Most of the states who’ve signed on to California’s LEV, GHG, and ZEV criteria, may be likely to ban new gas-fueled cars soon. According to Business Insider, after California’s law takes effect, so will New York’s. Similarly, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection says it will adopt and implement California's standard for clean cars. New Mexico’s Clean Car Rule begins phasing out gas-powered cars, trucks, and SUVs starting in 2026. And in March, Delaware also agreed to adopt California’s regulations. Washington already has a bill on the books that requires, by 2030 all vehicles sold, purchased, or registered in the state to be electric. Not only does the law go into full effect five years before California's, but it is more expansive.
Business Insider also estimates that states like Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, Oregon, New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Virginia, may be next to ban gas-powered vehicles because they have either followed California in the past or have similar emission initiatives and EV goals.
California, the birthplace of Tesla, has been the nation’s top EV market for years. Despite selling the most gas cars as a whole in the country, 15 percent of cars registered in the state this year have been electric, the California New Car Dealers Association reports. According to Bloomberg, the proposed regulations will bolter that number, starting at 35 percent in 2026 and hitting 68 percent in 2030. Plug-in hybrids, which switch between electricity and gas, and hydrogen fuel-cell cars would also count toward those goals.
What are potential hurdles?
California’s 2035 goal was announced two years ago. Since, regulators have been figuring out the details. Still, there are practical hurdles the state and its likely followers must overcome. For example, California now has about 80,000 stations in public places, far short of the 250,000 it wants by 2025. Possibly, Biden’s plan to build a nationwide network of EV charging stations could help.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation also flags access to materials needed to make batteries, and supply chain issues among the challenges to meeting the state's timeline, however, these are global issues outside of California’s and the automotive industry’s control. The New York Times reports that while mass affordable EV production may not be easy, the currently receptive automotive industry might help the state meet its goals.
Still, the problem of affordability may persist, as the average sales price for an EV was $66,000 in July according to Kelley Blue Book, compared to the $48,043 average for the broader car market. While these numbers represent a general automotive price increase, some advocates are concerned about affordability and equity amid California’s impending law. The incentive of up to $7,500 for purchasing an EV outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act is expected to help. Still, some advocates think more should be done.
On Thursday, before the law passed, staff from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) gave a presentation detailing “environmental justice allowances” that would give credits to car manufacturers that sold discounted zero-emission vehicles to low-income buyers. Nevertheless, the proposed rule left the discount optional, not mandatory, which to some board members, is toothless.
The environmental justice provisions CARB proposed, expands access for lower-income Californians via vehicle value credits. If implemented, to obtain the credits, manufacturers could sell cars to community-based clean mobility programs at a minimum 25 percent discount off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Such programs can include carsharing, ridesharing, ride-on-demand services, and other innovative transit services, Courthouse Service News reports.
Other incentives include a proposal for vehicle value credits to car dealers who participate in low-income financial assistance programs for used zero-emission vehicles, however, according to the outlet, many similar programs for used EVs already existent in California are sometimes not honored by dealerships. The lack of required equity provisions has led some advocates to say that Californians of color may be left behind.
What are the financial and health benefits?
Notwithstanding the substantial upfront costs of electric vehicles, CARB estimates that the rule will save car owners more than $90 billion in operational costs between 2026 and 2040. Most of these savings will be at the pump, as analysts assume that gas prices will hover around $4 a gallon, with the potential to go up.
Moreover, the environmental and health benefits of requiring EVs cannot be missed. According to the agency, taking additional gas cars off the road would eliminate the equivalent of almost 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions between 2026 and 2040. That’s equivalent to shutting down more than 100 coal plants for a year. The agency also estimates that the decrease in pollution will lead to almost 1,300 fewer deaths related to the heart and lungs and about 650 fewer emergency room visits for asthma.
While California will have to meet the challenges of affordability, charging infrastructure, mass production, and the increased toll it may take on the grid, the new mandate will be transformative for emissions reductions, the environment, and the health of Californians. It might even lead a third of the 50 states to follow suit.