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Not all environmentalists pleased with push to ban gas-powered cars in California

California’s proposed “clean car” rule to transition to selling 100% zero-emission vehicles by 2035 does not apply to used car sales and will not force millions of gasoline-powered cars off the road.

(CN) — California’s proposed mandate to outlaw sales of gas-powered cars and transition to zero-emission vehicles would be the first such law enacted in the world if approved by the California Air Resources Board later this summer.

But that doesn’t mean the rule would be enough to combat the effects of climate change on an already thirsty state, at least according to environmental groups who want a stricter, expedited mandate.

“The issue with the rule is how fast we get to that target. The more loopholes and the slower timeline we have, the worse it is for the climate and consumers,” Scott Hochberg, a transportation attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said in an interview.

The proposed mandate would require beginning with the 2026 model year, 35% of new cars, SUVs and small pickup trucks sold in California be zero-emission. Annual increases of zero-emission car sales would eventually reach 100% in 2035 under the proposed rule.

Some Democratic state legislators praised the proposed rule in statements Thursday.

“CARB’s Advance Clean Cars proposal is a significant improvement from earlier plans," state Senator Bob Wieckowski, chair of the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Resources, Environmental Protection and Energy, said in a statement. "It will put more [electric vehicles] on the road sooner as we transition to a ban on new gas-powered cars by 2035. It moves us closer to a 100% zero-emission vehicle future and sustains California’s leadership on electric vehicles.”

State Senator Henry Stern, a member of the Environmental Quality Committee said: “I’m excited to see CARB proposing a noble benchmark that will end our reliance on fossil fuels for transportation. I look forward to the board approving these new regulations over the summer and setting California on a path to 100% zero-emission vehicles.”

But State Senator Brian Dahle — a Republican running for governor this year — said the plan has flaws.

"It's more complicated than just doing an executive order and setting a date — that's not a good policy," Dahle said in an interview. "A good policy would be to have the infrastructure in place for the electric cars. We have an antiquated system."

Dahle said California doesn't have enough electric vehicle charging stations to meet its growing need — something CARB also noted in its report. And Dahle also pointed to the rolling blackouts across California during hot summer months and Santa Ana winds that plague the state and its electrical grid.

And California's high energy costs are prohibitive to moving toward 100% zero-emission vehicles, Dahle said.

He said if elected governor, he'd focus on fixing California's electric system and would build transmission lines to bring extra energy — like excess solar energy generated in Bakersfield — to highly populated regions like Los Angeles, which are high energy users.

"To have balance we need to make sure there is other generation — natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind and solar," Dahle said.

The move to 100% zero-emission vehicle sales in California won't come without some challenges, according to CARB’s report this week.

While California leads the country in zero-emission vehicle sales, surpassing 1 million vehicles sold in 2021, “lack of information” about zero-emission vehicles is the top hesitation cited by car shoppers who don’t purchase electric vehicles.

Aside from consumer education, access to at-home charging and higher-cost luxury zero-emission vehicles making up the majority of market share are other barriers cited by CARB.

Others in the industry and environmentalists want to see the proposed rule go a step further.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Greenlining Institute, Let’s Green CA, EV Hybrid Noire and California Nurses for Environmental Health and Justice want to see more teeth in the proposed rule, including stricter pollution standards for gas-powered cars that will still roll down California roads beyond 2035.

The environmental groups say CARB’s rule should mandate 100% zero-emission vehicle sales in the Golden State five years earlier, in 2030, to account for gas-powered cars with an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years.

Hochberg said if CARB does not accelerate the zero-emissions sales mandate by five years “it all but guarantees that there will be lots of conventional vehicles on the road past 2045,” which is when former Governor Jerry Brown mandated the state must reach carbon neutrality through an executive order.

“It puts in jeopardy whether the state can meet its climate goals if we take the slow road getting to 100% electric vehicles,” Hochberg said.

Accelerating the transition to zero-emission vehicles is the “low-hanging fruit” in California’s fight against climate change, he added.

“They’re easy to electrify, the technology already exists and vehicle manufacturers are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into developing these cars,” Hochberg said.

Since vehicle manufacturers are committed to selling the vehicles, Hochberg said there’s a “danger” CARB could set California’s transition to 100% zero-emission vehicle sales on too slow a timeline. The car industry he noted, “has a real possibility” of meeting or exceeding zero-emission vehicle sales goals in the Golden State before CARB’s rule even kicks in.

“I think there’s a real danger in CARB setting too low of a standard that the industry would achieve on its own anyway. I think an effective regulation pushes the auto industry to move faster and really achieve clean air faster,” Hochberg said.

He added: “It’s hard to exactly predict what will happen in 10 years but if you look at the trajectory, and automakers announced intentions for how many [electric vehicles] they want to sell and the immense resources that California is putting into building charging stations, it’s certainly possible. I don’t want this rule to be the limiter in all of that.”

A hearing date at the California Air Resources Board is scheduled for June 9. The board is expected to approve the final rule in August.

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