SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Rekindling the state’s fight against climate change after a spate of monumental wildfires have left Californians breathing ash and smoke for weeks, Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday outlawed the sale of new gas and diesel cars starting in 2035.
Newsom cast the crackdown on traditional cars and trucks as the “most impactful step” the state can take to stave off global warming. The Democratic governor pinned gasoline-powered cars as being responsible for the state’s notoriously smoggy air and said automakers will have to switch to zero-emissions models to remain in California’s lucrative market.
“You deserve to have a car that doesn’t give your kids asthma,” Newsom said. “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 move was announced as part of a sweeping executive order that also requires commercial trucking companies to convert their fleets to zero-emissions vehicles by 2045 “where feasible.” Newsom is further tasking lawmakers to enact a ban on new hydraulic fracturing — fracking — permits by 2024 and asks for new regulations to protect people living near active oil wells.
Wednesday’s order comes as California is locked in dozens of environmental lawsuits with the Trump administration, including a high-profile fight over the state’s ability to enact tough emissions and mileage standards.
Coming after the tool that enabled California to reduce smog for decades, the Trump administration stunned state officials and environmentalists in August 2018 when it proposed rolling back Obama-era vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards that were intended to nearly double passenger vehicle’s fuel economy and halve their carbon emissions by 2025.
With lawsuits pending in the District of Columbia, California’s longstanding ability to force automakers to produce cleaner, more efficient cars is on the ropes. But in the meantime, the state has hedged its legal battles by reaching agreements with five major automakers to continue producing cleaner and more electric cars, even if the courts side with the federal government.
Newsom, who inherited the fight over mileage standards from his predecessor Jerry Brown, has often accused the Trump administration of “environmental vandalism.” He thanked companies like Ford and Honda for siding with the state and warned the other major manufacturers backing Trump’s rollback will be on the wrong side of history.
“One thing we know: the trends are in the direction of zero-emissions vehicles,” Newsom said, noting countries like China, India, Germany and the United Kingdom have enacted clean car goals. “If you are an American manufacturer, how can you compete globally?”
Standing in front of a row of new Honda, Audi, Ford and Tesla electric models, Newsom said dumping gas guzzlers represents a “limitless” economic opportunity for a state currently mired in a $54 billion deficit.
Newsom claimed the state already has five times as many “green jobs” as oil industry jobs and 34 electric vehicle manufacturers in the state, making California the prime candidate to host and capitalize on the electric vehicle boom.
“This is an economic opportunity; the opportunity to transform our economy across sectors and the opportunity to accelerate innovation and the entrepreneurial spirt,” Newsom said in Sacramento.
According to state data, the transportation industry contributes over 40% of the state’s annual greenhouse gas emissions and contributes 80% of the pollutants known to cause the smog that notoriously plagues places like Los Angeles and the Central Valley throughout the year. Newsom and the California Air Resources Board predict the 15-year phaseout will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 35%.
The executive order builds on decisions made in recent months by the board, including the nation’s first electric commercial truck standards and anti-smog laws for the shipping and transportation industries.
Asked why he decided to take executive action instead of allowing the Legislature to run its course, Newsom said the state couldn’t afford to wait. He said the decision is on firm legal ground and that the board is more than capable of passing the necessary regulations in the coming years.
“The executive order will transform the California transportation picture completely,” said Mary Nichols, board chair. “In 15 years it will have dramatically reduced the emissions from this industry and brought in a whole new generation of cleaner, more efficient vehicles that are exactly the kind of vehicles people around the world want.”
The order only applies to new vehicles, so Californians will be allowed to continue buying and driving used gasoline-powered cars and trucks past 2035. It also directs state agencies to partner with the private sector to install a wave of charging stations.
As for the tricky part of actually convincing Californians to buy clean cars, Newsom said the state will look at new rebate programs and argued the cost of new electric vehicles will continue to drop over the next 15 years as automakers put out more choices.
NextGen California, a progressive nonprofit founded by billionaire Tom Steyer, said the phaseout will greatly help the state meet its ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2045.
“While eliminating greenhouse gases in California will not be enough to solve the climate crisis, if we do this well, our state can be the pivot point that turns both the national and global economies towards a more just and sustainable model,” said NextGen policy advisor David Weiskopf in a statement.
Wednesday’s climate initiative also carries major implications for the oil industry, as Newsom is asking lawmakers to ban new hydraulic fracking permits.
California has long been one of the nation’s largest oil producers, ranking 7th in terms of statewide crude oil production in 2019. In 2017, the oil industry generated over $152 billion in economic output and more than 366,000 jobs in California, according to a Los Angeles County report.
Though the technique produces a minor amount of the statewide oil haul, fracking has become increasingly common in oil-rich counties like Kern and Monterey.
In punting the fracking controversy to the Legislature, Newsom is putting the squeeze on his fellow Democrats representing oil-producing districts. Lawmakers next year could be asked to vote on legislation that will ultimately cost them campaign donations and kill industry jobs in places like Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Monterey.
Even with a Democratic supermajority in both statehouses, the Legislature has largely been unable in recent years to pass tough new regulations on fracking and the oil industry as a whole.
In addition to the fracking ban, Newsom is directing state agencies to develop regulations regarding the closure of abandoned wells. The goal is to ensure that operators are responsible for remediating shuttered wells, not taxpayers. The executive order also tasks the Department of Conservation to produce a “significantly strengthened, stringent, science-based” rule to protect communities and workers from oil extraction operations.
The California League of Conservation Voters called Newsom’s climate actions both “encouraging” and “frustrating.” The group is one of many that were pushing for a 2030 clean car mandate.
“As excited as we are about the governor’s strong leadership today, we are also disappointed that his plan to phase out fossil fuels fueling our fires doesn’t go far enough,” said the group’s CEO Mary Creasman in a statement. “But what is most notably missing in these actions are investments and regulation to make our landscapes and communities more resilient to forest fires and drought.”
The sweeping order furthers the colossal gap between Newsom and the president when it comes to climate change.
During a briefing on California’s wildfires that have burned a record 3.6 million acres, Trump last week downplayed climate change in his customary fashion. He told reporters the infernos aren’t being driven by warming temperatures but poor forest management and stated temperatures would start “getting cooler” despite the overwhelming evidence produced by climate scientists.
Newsom reiterated Wednesday he would continue making policy decisions based on expert advice, not the beliefs of the president.
“We believe in science, not anecdote, not opinion,” Newsom said. “We’re driven by science as it relates to our health policies, our response to Covid-19 and as it relates to climate and climate change.”