By Kathleen Ronayne
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KION-TV) - California is poised to set a 2035 deadline for all new cars, trucks, and SUVs sold in the state to be powered by electricity or hydrogen.
The California Air Resources Board will vote Thursday on the policy. The plan also allows for one-fifth of sales after 2035 to be plug-in hybrids that can run on batteries and gas.
It doesn’t eliminate such vehicles, however. People can still purchase and drive used gas-fueled vehicles after 2035.
However, it set a course for ending the gas pump era. The switch from gas to electric cars will drastically reduce emissions and air pollutants.
The transition may be painful in parts of the state still dominated by oil; California remains the seventh-largest oil-producing state, though its output is falling as it pushes forward with its climate goals.
There are several hurdles to reaching the goal, one of the bigger ones being having enough reliable power and charging stations. California now has about 80,000 stations in public places, far short of the 250,000 by 2025 goal.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents many major car makers, said the lack of infrastructure, access to materials needed to make batteries, and supply chain issues are among the challenges to meeting the state’s timeline.
"These are complex, intertwined, and global issues well beyond the control of either (the California Air Resources Board) or the auto industry," John Bozella, the group’s president, said in a statement.
The air board stated that the state makes up 10% of the U.S. car market, but it’s home to 43% of the nation’s 2.6 million registered plug-in vehicles.
California climate officials say the new policy will be the world’s most ambitious because it sets benchmarks for electric vehicle sales over the next few decades. By 2026, for example, one-third of new cars sold must be electric. Around 16% of vehicles sold in California in the first three months of this year were electric.
The European Parliament in June backed a plan to effectively prohibit the sale of gas and diesel cars in the 27-nation bloc by 2035, and Canada has mandated the sale of zero-emission cars by the same year. The Chinese province of Hainan said it would do the same this week by 2030.
In the U.S., Massachusetts, Washington, and New York are among states that have set goals to transform their car markets or have already committed to following California’s new rules.
California has historically been granted permission by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set its own car tailpipe emissions rules, and 17 other states follow some or all of its policies.
The new electric vehicle rules will also require federal approval, which is likely with President Joe Biden in the White House. A future Republican president, though, could challenge California’s authority to set its car standards, as the Trump administration did.
Indeed, the new commitment comes as California works to maintain reliable electricity. At the same time, it moves away from gas-fired power plants in favor of solar, wind, and other cleaner energy sources. Earlier this year, top energy officials warned the state could run out of power during the hottest summer days, which happened briefly in August 2020.
That hasn’t happened yet this year. But Newsom is pushing to keep open the state’s last-remaining nuclear plant beyond its planned closure in 2025, and the state may turn to diesel generators or natural gas plants as a backup when the grid is strained.
Adding more car chargers will put a higher demand on the energy grid.
Ensuring access to charging stations is also key to ramping up electric vehicle sales. Last year, the infrastructure bill passed by Congress provided $5 billion for states to build charges every 50 miles (80 kilometers) along interstate highways. Meanwhile, Newsom has pledged to spend billions to boost zero-emission vehicle sales by adding chargers in low-income neighborhoods.
Driving an electric vehicle long distances today, even in California, requires careful planning about where to stop and charge, said Mary Nichols, former chair of the California Air Resources Board. She said that the state and federal government money would go a long way to boost that infrastructure and make electric cars a more convenient option.
"This is going to be a transformative process, and the mandate for vehicle sales is only one piece of it," she said.
Though hydrogen is a fuel option under the new regulations, cars that run on fuel cells have made up less than 1% of car sales in recent years.
The state and government have rebates for thousands of dollars to offset the cost of buying electric cars, and the rules incentivize car makers to make used electric vehicles available to low- and middle-income people. Over the past 12 years, California has provided more than $1 billion in rebates for the sale of 478,000 electric, plug-in, or hybrid vehicles over the air board.