Updated 1:53 p.m.
By the year 2035 all new passenger cars and trucks sold in California will not be allowed to emit fumes that warm the atmosphere. That’s thanks to an executive order from Gov. Gavin Newsom Wednesday.
“This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change,” Newsom said, adding that more than 50% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions are from the transportation sector — 80% of smog-forming pollution and 95% of toxic diesel emissions.
The order comes as California is witnessing the effects of climate change first hand, Newsom says — unprecedented weather, drought, sea-level rise, 3.7 million acres of burned land, 26 fire related deaths, a heat dome, and other impacts.
“As a consequence, we have to deliver more than platitudes, we have to deliver more than proposals and promises well into the future,” he said. “We've got to deliver in the application of our ideals.”
Even though California will be leading the nation with this effort, the order doesn’t stop all gasoline powered cars. It aims to “not prevent Californians from owning gasoline-powered cars or selling them on the used car market.”
The order also did not ban fracking — a controversial oil extraction method — but the governor called for ending issuance of new permits by 2024, noting that is something the Legislature has the power to do.
“We simply don't have that authority,” he said. “That's why we need the Legislature to approve it.”
These two climate change actions would expedite California's already ambitious efforts to curb carbon emissions that lead to a warmer environment and loss of human life. They are also expected to create tension with the Trump administration — California and the federal government are at odds on many environmental issues and the state has filed dozens of legal challenges over Trump’s attempts to roll back environmental regulations.
Who Will Make The Order A Reality?
The California Air Resources Board and other agencies will develop the order, which the Newsom administration says would result in a more than 35% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an 80% improvement in oxides of nitrogen emissions from cars statewide. Further, the board will develop similar regulations for medium- and heavy-duty trucks by 2045. It also aims to achieve 100% zero-emission from off-road vehicles by 2035.
“For too many decades, we have allowed cars to pollute the air that our children and families breathe,” Newsom said in a press release. “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.”
Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) commended the action and hopes the administration prioritizes the most vulnerable in the state. She says in her district there are six freeways and 75% of the air pollution comes from mobile sources.
“It will lead to healthier, longer lives for my neighbors and me,” she said in a press release. “We all have a part to play in protecting our people and our planet against climate change and this is another bold step in the right direction.”
This action builds on a rule to begin in 2024 requiring truck manufacturers to transition to electric zero-emission vehicles. The governor also signed an MOU with 14 other states early this year to advance and accelerate the market for electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. Last fall, California led a multi-state coalition in filing a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to revoke portions of a 2013 waiver that allows the state to implement its Advanced Clean Car Standards.
But not everyone loves the idea of taking gas and diesel powered cars off the roads. California Senator Jim Nielsen took to Twitter saying, “Millions of Californians wait desperately for EDD checks for food/rent, while Governor Newsom fiddles with a completely outlandish edict to ban the internal combustion engine in CA. He can't keep the lights on, nor manage his agencies, now he wants your car.”
Millions of Californians wait desperately for EDD checks for food/rent, while Governor Newsom fiddles with a completely outlandish edict to ban the internal combustion engine in CA. He can't keep the lights on, nor manage his agencies, now he wants your car.— Senator Jim Nielsen (@CASenatorJim) September 23, 2020
Does The Order Do Enough?
The order still falls shy of what many climate change groups — like the California Environmental Justice Alliance, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club — called for. They want the state to move to 100% zero emission-vehicle sales by 2030 — five years faster than the executive order.
“We can’t afford to settle for half-steps and incremental changes that tinker around the edges of the real impacts of the oil and gas industry,” said Miya Yoshitani, Executive Director of Asian Pacific Environmental Network. “We hope that in the future, Governor Newsom will rise to meet the scale of the crises we’re facing today.”
But when CapRadio asked why Newsom did not aim to phase out new gas-powered cars by 2030 as environmental groups have called for, he said “we’re doing something no other state has ever done in history and arguably, this is the most significant effort of its kind anywhere in the world because it comes with the California Air Resources Board’s backing.”
“We’re very proud of this effort and to the extent we need to do more and do better, none of us are ideological,” he added.
Environmental groups laid out five actions last week asking the state to boldly address climate change. The actions include ending fossil fuel infrastructure, increasing the use of clean electricity, phasing out dirty fuels in homes, phasing out polluting cars and trucks and appointing strong climate leaders to regulatory agencies.
While the executive order is a step in the right direction, the groups say it doesn’t fully address the issues climate change presents.
Kathryn Phillips, Director of Sierra Club California, recognizes that action around climate change began nearly two decades ago in California, but says still more needs to be done at a pace and scale “to match the need.”
“This action today is an important first step,” she said in a statement. “Only a suite of bold action across sectors will avert a climate catastrophe.”
In the past, people have argued that electric cars are too expensive and made for the elite, but the administration says that by the time the rule goes into effect, zero-emission cars could be cheaper than traditional fossil fuel cars.
Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, said there’s “an arms race going on” between automakers “to get to cheaper and more effective batteries.” She noted that Tesla is working on battery innovation, which could bring down the cost of electric cars. She also said Volkswagen has committed to only making electric cars.
“That’s the prize: a zero-emission vehicle that’s affordable by everybody,” she said.
But Nichols said the state isn’t “just waiting for the price to come down” and is looking at more affordable clean transportation options such as electric bikeshare and carshare programs.
Also Focuses On Oil, Rail
The order notes that in-state oil extraction has declined by 60% since 1985, but that demand hasn’t slowed down. That’s why, Newsom says, it prioritizes to protect the health and safety of communities and workers as the state further moves away from fossil fuels.
Newsom says he is asking the Legislature to end new hydraulic fracturing permits by 2024.
This does some of what environmental organizations are calling for. But they would like the administration to phase out oil production and refining at a faster pace.
“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. He has the power to protect Californians from oil industry pollution, and he needs to use it, not pass the buck,” she added.
A faster pace on phasing out fossil fuels is important because communities that live near oil sites “are suffering, higher rates of asthma,” said Sasan Saadat, a research and policy analyst with the environmental nonprofit law firm Earthjustice. “They're suffering water pollution, they're suffering from degraded soil quality. And in essence, they're paying with their livelihoods for the energy system that we have.”
The order will also help companies who transition their upstream and downstream oil production operations to cleaner alternatives.
By next July the order has agencies develop strategies to “expedite the responsible closure and remediation of former oil extraction sites.”
By the end of the year the Newsom administration is having the Department of Conservation’s Geologic Energy Management Division propose a “strengthened, stringent, science-based health and safety draft rule that protects communities and workers from the impacts of oil extraction.”
Some groups applauded the fast tracking of addressing oil extraction sites, but others say he’s been talking about climate change and phasing out fossil fuel extraction since his campaign for the governorship.
“Yet nearly two years later, his track record has only gotten worse, and for months we’ve heard nothing but hypotheticals and seen nothing but baby steps,” said Greenpeace USA Senior Climate Campaigner Caroline Henderson. “This executive order fails to comprehensively address the root issues fueling this crisis. We need him to stop fueling the flames and take action at once.”
But the oil industry, represented by groups like the California Independent Petroleum Association, say the moves will drive up energy costs for consumers and “hurt California’s fight to lower global greenhouse gas emissions.”
“At a time when Californians pay more for energy while experiencing manmade ‘green outs,’ it doesn't make sense to hurt consumers, our economy, and our environment by banning California production,” said CIPA Chief Executive Officer Rock Zierman. “We urge the Governor to ignore the rhetoric, stand up for science, and know that we are willing partners in California's climate future. The focus should be on reducing overall emissions, not picking winners and losers.”
The group says the oil industry is poised to invest in technology to take carbon out of the air, which could “result in negative emissions.”
Lastly it also orders state agencies to develop strategies for an “integrated, statewide rail and transit network” that should incorporate low-income and disadvantaged communities, though Nichols noted many of California’s transit agencies are “now in very sad shape because of the recession.”
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