Governor Newsom Issues Order Setting Goal of Phasing Out Combustion Engine Vehicles by 2035

Consistent with climate announcements across the country this week, Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-79-20 related to issues surrounding vehicular transportation emissions and fossil fuel production in California.  This Executive Order builds on previous orders issued by former Governor Jerry Brown in 2012 and 2018, which set state goals, respectively of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles by 2025 and 5 million zero-emission vehicles by 2030. California was on its way to meeting these goals, with cumulative sales of over 700,000 at the end of 2019. Today’s Executive Order sets the following additional goals:

  • 100% of new passenger cars and truck sales will be zero emission by 2035
  • 100% of medium-and-heavy duty vehicles for all operations where feasible by 2045
  • 100% of drayage trucks by 2035
  • 100% of off-road vehicles and equipment by 2035 where feasible

While customer demand has increased and California companies are introducing new zero-emission vehicle lines each year, many hurdles remain to become an all-electric state, or to do so alone and in a cost-effective manner. For example, battery costs are slowly coming down but remain high and dependent upon new technological breakthroughs, and mining for minerals used in batteries remains problematic from a worker safety and environmental protection standpoint. Charging infrastructure (mostly paid for by California’s electricity ratepayers) is on the rise but is still focused in well-to-do areas of the state where expensive electric vehicles are already most likely to be purchased.

Governor Newsom’s Executive Order also directs CARB to develop and propose rulemaking for passenger vehicles and trucks, medium-and heavy-duty fleets where feasible, drayage trucks, and off-road vehicles and equipment “requiring increasing volumes” of new ZEVs “towards the target of 100%.” The Executive Order also directs CalEPA, CalGEM, and the Natural Resources Agency to transition and repurpose oil production facilities with an eye toward meeting carbon neutrality by 2045. This builds upon the Advanced Clean Trucks rule, which was adopted by CARB in July of this year, and the proposed Advanced Clean Fleets rulemaking, in which CARB proposes to mandate fleet purchases of ZEVs. This Executive Order would, in theory, increase the maximum percentage of commercial trucks to 100% and propose to add in passenger vehicles and trucks for the first time.

The nature of passenger vehicle travel and any commercial trucks driving across the state or country begs a central question: If California goes it alone, how will Californians and California goods move across the country, and do so without further damaging our fragile economy? Charging infrastructure is still sporadic in some parts of our state and will remain that way for quite some time. How will interstate commerce be conducted if a business must to switch out a truck when you run out of charging stations or cross state lines? How will Californians in rural parts of our state operate their businesses without sufficient infrastructure? If combustion engine vehicles are banned, how will we equitably adjust for the increased costs of gasoline for an ever-shrinking pool of combustion engine vehicles owned by those that cannot afford a new electric vehicle? How do we account for rolling blackouts resulting from wildfires or energy shortages which make charging impossible? How to we continue to pay for road repairs, which are currently based on gasoline sales tax?

These questions are important ones, and likely why the legislature considered, and rejected advancement of broad policy strokes banning combustion engines in the last two legislative sessions. If California’s elected officials representing diverse viewpoints from all over our state do not believe this is a necessary goal, why would the governor force this on their constituents during an economic crisis? We will continue to watch as this issue unfolds at California’s agencies over the next year, and so should you. All Californians and California businesses will feel the economic squeeze from this tightening of options.

Leah Silverthorn, Policy Advocate