California on Wednesday announced a tough plan to force a steady increase in the sale of electric and zero-emissions cars, the first step in enacting a first nationwide goal to ban new gasoline-powered cars by 2035.
Under the proposed rule, issued by the California Air Resources Board, the state would require 35 percent of new passenger cars sold in the state by 2026 to be powered by batteries or hydrogen. Less than a decade later, the state expects that 100 percent of all new car sales will be zero-emissions from the fossil fuels that are primarily responsible for global warming.
It would be a huge leap. Currently, 12.4 percent of new cars sold in California are zero-emissions, according to the council.
If the board of directors finalizes the plan in August, it could set a benchmark for the country’s auto industry. California is the largest auto market in the United States and the tenth largest in the world. In addition, 15 other states — including New York, Massachusetts and North Carolina — have previously followed California’s moves regarding tailpipe emissions and may adopt similar proposals.
A critical year for electric vehicles
Battery powered cars are growing in popularity around the world, even with the overall auto market stagnating.
“This is very important,” said Daniel Sperling, a member of the California Aviation Administration Board and director of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. He said the proposed rule, which he said he expects to pass, sends a signal to the global auto market.
“Other countries, other countries, they’re watching what California is doing,” he said. “So it will resonate around the world.”
The proposal comes as President Biden’s climate agenda falters. Mr. Biden signed an executive order last year calling on the government to try to ensure that half of the cars sold in the US will be electric by 2030. Legislation that would help enable this transition by allocating billions of dollars in tax incentives for electric cars, however It has been frozen in the Senate. Meanwhile, under pressure to mitigate rising gas prices, the president urged oil companies to drill for more oil.
Automakers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the proposed California rule. In a joint statement last year, Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, the auto company formed this year after the merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot, announced their “shared ambition” to achieve sales of 40 to 50 percent of electric vehicles nationwide by 2030.
But they wrote that they needed government support and a “full set of electricity policies” to translate aspirations into action.
Transportation is the single largest source of emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants in California.
The proposed California rule would put into effect an executive order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020. Under the plan, 35 percent of new cars and light trucks sold would have to be zero-emissions starting in 2026. That will rise to 68 percent in 2030. , and to 100 percent in 2035. The plan allows for 20 percent of new sales to be plug-in hybrid vehicles.
According to California air pollution regulators, the rule will remove 384 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions between 2026 and 2040 — more than the state emitted from all sources in 2019.
“These emissions reductions will help stabilize the climate and reduce the risks of severe droughts, wildfires and consequent particulate pollution,” says the state’s plan.
Environmental groups were divided around the plan. Don Anner, deputy director of the Clean Transportation Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the measure has improved since an earlier draft. He called it “the most important climate decision” the California Air Resources Board will make this year.
But Scott Hochberg, a transportation attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, accused California of taking a “slow path,” and called in the state’s statement to end the sale of gas-powered cars five years ago, by 2030.
Mr. Sperling noted that many challenges remain, including building car charging stations and persuading consumers to buy electric vehicles. The last 20 to 30 percent, he said, will be the hardest part of the transition and will likely require new policies and incentives.
“We can’t vaccinate people,” he said. “Why do we think we can get them to buy an electric car? What that means is that we have to be creative in making these vehicles attractive and compelling to consumers even beyond their inherent traits.”