SACRAMENTO -- Taking the global lead to combat climate change, California is set to approve a plan to put the brakes on all new gas cars by 2035. It will be a phased approach, but one that will set California apart from the rest of the world.
The plan has to still be approved by the federal government but if it is, California will see a huge decline in greenhouse gas emissions.
"We will be the first jurisdiction in the world to require all new cars to be sold to be alternative fuel cars," said Governor Gavin Newsom.
Governor Newsom's ambitious goal for California is for all new passenger cars to be electric by 2035.
California air regulators are expected Thursday to issue stringent rules and set interim targets to phase the cars out.
Sperling added he was "99.9%" confident the measure would pass. If it does, it would be one of the first such bans worldwide. It also could have major implications for the US car market, given how large California's economy is.
"This is monumental," Sperling said. "This is the most important thing that CARB has done in the last 30 years. It's important not just for California, but it's important for the country and the world."
The board's new rules also would set interim quotas for zero-emission vehicles, focusing on new models. Starting with 2026 models, 35% of new cars, SUVs and small pickups sold in California would be required to be zero-emission vehicles. That quota would increase each year, expected to reach 51% of all new car sales in 2028, 68% in 2030 and 100% in 2035. The quotas also would allow 20% of zero-emission cars sold to be plug-in hybrids.
The rules would not impact used vehicles and allow those vehicles to stay on the roads.
Sperling said the process of drafting the rules had received "surprisingly little debate" and push back from car companies, a signal that companies themselves are embracing the move to zero-emission vehicles. Several companies including Ford and GM have already announced ambitious plans to move toward zero-emission cars, trucks and SUVs.
"The car companies see what's happening in China, in Europe," Sperling said. "Many of them have already made announcements about how they're converting totally to electric vehicles."
Severin Borenstein with UC Berkeley's Energy Institue at Haas believes California will set an example for others to follow.
"The main impact here is not that California is not on its own going to change climate change," said Borenstein. "The main impact is when California demonstrates these sort of things can be done, without damaging the economy so that other states and countries will take the same path."
If the new policy comes to fruition, the California Air Resources Board estimates greenhouse gas emissions from cars will be cut by 50% by 2040. The strain will now shift though to the electricity grid as the demand to charge will soar.
"Will this strain the electricity grid? The answer to that depends entirely on when people charge. If we can get people to charge when there's a lot of solar in the middle of the day, this can be handled with no problem at all," said Borenstein.
This comes as Santa Rosa just became the biggest city in the US to ban the construction of new gas stations.
"It's the 2020's," said Woody Hastings with the Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations. "If it was the 1920's sure, it might make sense to open a gas station."
The ban is intended to encourage more drivers to make the switch to electric. While there are still issues with electric car affordability and creating a larger and more reliable network of charging systems, the goal is for Sonoma County as a whole to get away from the use of fossil fuels.
"We're planning to work with the remainder of the cities, Windsor, Cloverdale, Healdsburg and the City of Sonoma and we're also working with the County so we're hoping to have the entire County and all the cities on board with this," said Hastings.
Other blue states have followed California's lead on tighter vehicle emissions in the past; Sperling and other officials are watching to see if Northeast and Pacific Northwest states in particular follow suit with the latest move.
"This is a big part of the US market," Sperling said. "Even if the feds don't move on a regulatory perspective, a big chunk of the country will be moving forward."
Thursday's vote is the culmination of years of work; in 2020, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order mandating that all vehicles sold in the state must be zero emission by 2035.
California also got a boost from the Biden administration, which reinstated California's longtime ability to set its own vehicle emission standards earlier this year. The Trump administration had rolled back the California waiver in 2019.
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