California, the nation’s most populous state and the center of American auto culture, is banning the sale of new gasoline-powered cars from 2035, marking a historic step in the state’s battle against climate change.
The rule, issued by the California Air Resources Board on Thursday, will force automakers to accelerate production of cleaner cars starting in 2026 so that only sales of zero-emissions cars, vans and SUVs are allowed in the state.
The unanimous vote comes after Gov. Gavin Newsom has set a goal in 2020 to accelerate the transition away from internal combustion engines. The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, which has suffered from wildfires, droughts and air pollution exacerbated by climate change.
The decision is expected to have sweeping effects outside California and is likely to pave the way for other states to follow suit. At least 15 states, including New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, have adopted California’s auto standards on previous clean car rules.
A charging port of the 2022 Lincoln Corsair Grand Touring Hybrid during AutoMobility LA ahead of the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, November. 18, 2021.
Bing Guan | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Leanne Randolph, president of the California Air Resources Board, said the base is one of the state’s most important efforts to date to clean the air and will result in a 50% reduction in pollution from cars and light trucks by 2040.
The policy will not ban people from continuing to drive gas-powered cars or from buying and selling them on the second-hand market after 2035. The rule would also allow automakers to sell up to 20% of plug-in hybrid cars, which have gas-powered engines, by the year 2035.
But the rule is phasing out such vehicles over time, requiring 35% of all new car sales to be powered by batteries or hydrogen by 2026 and 68% by 2030. More than 16% of new cars sold in California in 2022 were empty of emissions. The state said cars rose from 12.41% in 2021 and 7.78% in 2020.
“California is once again leading the way by setting common sense standards that will pass to sales of all pollution-free cars and light trucks in the state,” said Cathy Harris, a clean vehicle advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Cars drive on Interstate 101 in Los Angeles, California.
Robin Beck | Getty Images
California, home to congested highways and the smog-filled skies over Los Angeles, wields significant power over the nation’s auto industry.
The federal waiver under the Clean Air Act allows the state to adopt fuel economy standards that are stronger than those of the federal government and has set a precedent for the rest of the country on how to curb vehicle emissions.
California’s ability to control vehicle emissions has spurred innovations such as catalytic converters that convert toxic gases and pollutants in exhaust gas into less toxic pollutants, as well as “check engine” lights. The state established the country’s first exhaust pipe emission standards in 1966.
The Trump administration in 2019 revoked California’s authority to regulate its own air quality, but the Biden administration reinstated that authority earlier this year.
State officials said the rule is necessary to meet the state’s goal of transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2045, adding that the reductions in emissions will result in fewer cardiopulmonary deaths and better health for those with asthma and other illnesses.
However, meeting the schedule will present challenges, including installing enough charging stations across the state and adequate access to materials to make batteries for electric cars.
John Bosella, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents major auto manufacturers, said California would be “extremely difficult” for automakers to meet.
“Whether or not these requirements are realistic or achievable is directly related to external factors such as inflation, fuel and shipping infrastructure, supply chains, employment, availability and prices of critical minerals, and persistent shortages of semiconductors,” Bozella said in a statement. These are complex, intertwined and global issues.
The rule comes after President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act earlier this month, which provides funding for electric vehicle tax credits and clean car manufacturing facilities. The Biden administration also issued new nationwide limits on exhaust emissions last year for new cars and light trucks made through 2026.
Environmental groups applauded the decision on Thursday, although some argued the council needed to set tougher targets to counter the urgency of the climate crisis. Some groups had previously urged the board of directors to impose a rule to achieve 100% zero-emission vehicle sales by 2030, five years before the actual regulation.
“This rule needed to match the urgency of the climate crisis, and instead let Californians make faltering progress down the slow track,” Scott Hochberg, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, said in a statement.
“California needs to act aggressively on gas-powered cars rather than just ignore them, switch to electric vehicles much sooner or watch our climate stability wane,” Hochberg said.
The rule is a “major step toward the air that breathes in California’s communities, and it will be critical for the state to achieve its climate and emissions reduction goals,” Daniel Parade, California’s chief policy advocate for the Sierra Club, said in a statement.
“Other states must move quickly to join California and adopt this life-saving rule, which will improve air quality and help slow the climate crisis,” Parad said.