California jump-starts the movement to ban gas-powered cars

·Senior Editor
·6-min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

California regulators last week approved a plan to ban the sale of gas-powered cars in the state by 2035, setting an aggressive timeline for reducing the use of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.

A nationwide transition from gas-powered cars to electric vehicles is widely viewed as an essential step toward meeting the country’s long-term emissions reduction goals. And though the market has expanded substantially in the past few years, electric vehicles still make up less than 1 percent of the estimated 250 million cars, trucks and SUVs on the road in the U.S.

Even in California, which has more than five times as many electric cars as any other state, zero-emission vehicles account for only about 16 percent of total car sales. The new rules will require automakers to gradually increase the share of EVs sold — to 35 percent in 2026 and 68 percent by 2030 — while imposing hefty financial penalties on companies that fall short of those benchmarks. The policy applies only to new cars and does not apply to consumers. After 2035, it will still be legal to own a gas-powered car in the state, buy one used or purchase one from out of state.

California has long been a trendsetter for other blue states when it comes to climate policy. These new regulations appear to be no different. More than a dozen states are expected to adopt their own versions of the Golden State’s gas car ban. Some even have laws that require them to match California’s emissions rules. One of them is Virginia, where recently elected Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has vowed to prevent what he called the “ridiculous edict” from being put in place despite apparently being legally bound allow it under the terms of a law signed by his Democratic predecessor last year.

Why there’s debate

Supporters of the policy believe this could be exactly what the U.S. needs to jump-start a transition to cleaner transportation sources. They say California is so large and influential that its policies will force automakers to follow through on their oft-stated plans to end production of fossil-fuel-burning cars — a shift that will change the car market even in states where the bans aren’t in place. Others say the ban will have broad benefits beyond emissions reductions, including saving consumers money on gas and maintenance, reducing harmful air pollution and expanding the availability of EV-charging infrastructure outside of major cities.

But some climate activists say the policy isn’t nearly aggressive enough to meet the scale of the challenge posed by climate change. They argue that the U.S. shouldn’t wait 13 years to ban gas cars, especially since many gas-powered cars that were bought new in 2034 will still be on the road a decade later. Others say that as much of an improvement as EVs are, the real solution is to move away from reliance on cars in general.

Conservatives generally reject what they view as heavy-handed government intervention in the free market. They argue that such strict rules could threaten the long-term stability of the U.S. auto industry and deny Americans their right to choose the vehicle that suits their needs best. There are also broad concerns about whether California and other states can overcome the many logistic, technological and potential legal challenges that will need to be conquered for the ban to become a reality.

What’s next

California can’t officially begin enacting its plan until it’s given a waiver to do so by the Environmental Protection Agency, a step most experts expect to happen without much drama. The EPA’s authority over states’ climate policies could pose a threat to the policy, though, if a Republican reclaims the White House after 2024.


California has put the country on the path to a better, greener future

“This is California’s ‘for all mankind moment,’ a second chance to create an alternate future that we gave up on last time. Our kids and their kids and generations to come will thank us for it.” — Edward Humes, Los Angeles Times

Consumers may not be ready for a complete shift away from gas cars

“The rule can’t force California’s car shoppers to actually buy the new electric vehicles that automakers will now have to offer. And if consumers don’t follow along, that’s a much harder problem to address.” — Lisa Friedman and Brad Plumer, New York Times

The era of fossil fuels is already ending; these rules will speed up its demise

“Your gas-guzzler won’t disappear tomorrow, but the formal decision by California, one of the world’s largest car markets, is further evidence that transportation’s future is electric. Major car and truck makers have acknowledged this reality, and are moving, some more quickly than others, into the electric vehicle world.” — Editorial, Kansas City Star

Turning the plan into a reality may prove impossible

“Declaring that the sale of gas-powered cars will end 13 years hence is the easy part. Actually transforming a huge component of Californians’ daily lives, and a big chunk of the state’s economy, will be immensely difficult.” — Dan Walters, CalMatters

The ban is far too weak to make a real difference

“Banning sales of new gas cars by 2035 is laughably too little, too late. This is not something to do victory laps over. It’s 2022, the world is already flooding and burning horrendously, it’s accelerating fast, and the damage is irreversible.” — NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus

The rules will force automakers to finally go all in on EVs

“The government has relied mainly on more gentle efforts to prod the car industry along, like consumer tax rebates for zero-emission vehicles. The result was that the industry was able to keep squeezing money out of 100-year-old internal combustion engine technology, while slow-walking a transition away from fossil fuels. … The world needed an electric vehicle transition, but the U.S. was going to get it at whatever pace the car industry felt like.” — Alejandro de la Garza, Time

Overzealous Democrats are out to kill the American auto industry

“The American car industry is buckling under pressure from federal bureaucrats targeting the end of the affordable, internal-combustion engine.” — Henry Payne, National Review

California’s policy could change the entire global car market

“Automakers don’t like making different cars for different states, so California sets the de facto standard for the country and other parts of the world.” — Umair Irfan, Vox

The ban will put car ownership out of reach for many low-income Americans

“Electric vehicles are quite expensive. And so this policy, which would be burdensome even in a relatively car-free place like New York City, will be crushing in a state whose entire geography and culture center on the automobile. This new price might make certain legislators feel good about themselves, but it will price many low-income Californians, already stressed by high housing prices, out of their commutes as well.” — Editorial, Washington Examiner

The real green solution is to end our dependence on cars entirely

“A gas-car ban like this can’t exist in a vacuum. California needs a similarly historic and binding commitment to funding other transportation modes. … It’s important to move toward retiring gas-guzzling, emissions-spewing cars. Now we just need more ways to get out of them entirely.” — Alissa Walker, Curbed

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images