California Steps on the Gas With Zero-Emission Vehicle Rule

Seventeen states have adopted California’s tailpipe emissions standards, and Virginia wants out.

August 30, 2022

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Late last week, the California Air Resources Board passed a plan that requires all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in the state to be electric vehicles or plug-in electric hybrids by 2035, reports the New York Times. Currently, 16% of all new car sales in California are zero-emission vehicles.

The plan is a phased approach. By 2026, 35% percent of new cars and trucks sold in the state must be zero-emission, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen-powered vehicles, and the benchmarks rise to 68% in 2030 and 100% by 2035.

The rule doesn’t apply to used cars and trucks, and they can continue to be sold in the state after 2035, and gas-powered vehicle owners can still drive their vehicles in the state. California will enforce these rules by fining automakers $20,000 per new vehicle sold if they do not comply with the rule.

“California is good at enforcing its rules,” Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Transport Campaign at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the New York Times. “Companies at their peril violate those rules.”

In May, NACS filed a petition in federal court in Washington, D.C., challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s grant of a waiver that would allow California to impose a zero-emission vehicle mandate and related limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our members are accelerating investments in electric vehicle chargers to serve that market, but different states setting technology mandates will not work,” said Doug Kantor, NACS general counsel. “The track record of policymakers deciding what technologies will be best for future Americans is a poor one.”

According to the Associated Press, 17 states have adopted some or all of California’s emission standards, which are stricter than federal rules. California is allowed to have more stringent rules under the federal Clean Air Act. Together, the states represent roughly one-third of America’s vehicle market.

Virginia is one of the states that follows California’s tailpipe emissions standards due to legislation passed last year. Because of the 2021 law, Virginia must also transition to selling only zero-emission new vehicles by 2035. Republican lawmakers in the state want to change the law so that Virginia does not have to follow the standards.

When the legislation passed last year, climate change was a top priority for the Democratic-led Virginia government, but now Republicans control the House of Delegates, and Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin said they would push to unlink Virginia’s standards.

“House Republicans will advance legislation in 2023 to put Virginians back in charge of Virginia’s auto emission standards and its vehicle marketplace. Virginia is not, and should not be, California,” House Speaker Todd Gilbert said in a statement reported by the Associated Press.

Massachusetts is another state that follows California’s emission standards, and reports that the state will likely phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 as well. The move to follow California’s lead is due to a clean energy and offshore wind bill Gov. Charlie Baker signed earlier this month, which mandates Massachusetts follow California if the state banned the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles.

“California had to go first according to federal law, and now states can piggyback on to the California rule, which Governor Baker has pledged to do,” Larry Chretien of the Green Energy Consumers Alliance told NBC Boston. “The legislature is now requiring that, and so now the next step is for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to write the regulations that will make it happen.”

Other states, including Vermont, New York, New Jersey and Oregon, will stop selling gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.

As additional states put in place their own versions of these policies, “they will drive the market and drive innovation,” Margo Oge, an electric vehicles expert who led the Environmental Protection Agency’s transportation emissions program under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told the Times.

After California passed its plan, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade association of vehicle manufacturers, called the rules “very aggressive” in a statement.

“California today is about 18% EV market share and leading the nation which stands at 6.3% market share. Despite this positive trend, California’s EV sale mandates are still very aggressive—even in California with decades of supportive EV policies—and will be extremely challenging. That’s just a fact,” said John Bozzella, the association’s president.

Challenges for California’s ban on gas cars include whether consumers in the state embrace zero-emission vehicles and how quickly vehicle manufacturers can produce these types of vehicles. There are also legal challenges that could hinder the policy, and some experts say these challenges have a chance of success.

What’s more, the EV charging infrastructure in the state can’t currently handle the policy, and researchers at University of California, Davis, estimate that 1.9 million additional public chargers would be needed by 2035.