California measure to push out gas cars faces major opposition

Source: Anne C. Mulkern, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, January 8, 2018

Cars that run on gasoline or diesel are on the hit list for eventual elimination under new California legislation.

A.B. 1745, offered Wednesday by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D), mandates that starting in 2040, the state restrict new vehicle registrations to cars with zero tailpipe emissions. It doesn’t specifically name gas-fueled cars, but no new vehicle that pollutes could get registered.

“It’s time that we clear the path for emissions-free transportation and take significant steps to achieve our ambitious emissions reduction goals,” Ting said in a statement. “We’ve got to address the harmful emissions that cause climate change. Achieving the goal of electrification of transportation is crucial for the health of our people and the planet.”

California wants to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. Transportation accounts for about 37 percent of that pollution in the state. Ting has said that California won’t meet its goal “if we don’t do something very aggressively on changing people’s habits in regards to passenger vehicles.”

A.B. 1745 would allow people moving into California to keep their vehicles, even if they emit carbon dioxide. The measure would affect only light-duty passenger vehicles. The zero-emissions criteria would not allow for new registrations of hybrid cars with gas engines. Ting had considered allowing those after 2040 but ultimately decided they are transition vehicles and “this bill is about where we’re transitioning to,” an aide said.

Clean cars currently represent a sliver of the more than 25 million cars on the roads in California, a place renowned for its love of automobiles. Plug-in electric vehicles made up 2.5 percent of car sales in the first nine months of 2017. That’s as the state offers plum incentives to motorists to buy EVs and fuel-cell cars. Meanwhile, light truck purchases represented half of all sales.

A.B. 1745 already faces forceful opposition from powerful business groups.

“This legislation will lead to an expensive new burden for all Californians, especially middle-class families,” Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, said in a statement. “Electric vehicles remain too expensive and impractical for many residents. This new mandate will act as yet another tax on working families who will be forced into buying a more expensive car that may not fit their needs.”

The Western States Petroleum Association, the trade group for several oil companies, called the measure “a crude and overly simplistic proposal that will hurt the majority of California families and is also likely to undermine California’s current track of success in climate leadership.”

The California New Car Dealers Association, a trade group for franchise auto sellers in the state, said its “initial reaction is that a mandate set 22 years in the future is premature especially since we have a long way to go to meet the already existing ZEV mandate in 2025.”

The state requires automakers that sell cars in California to make an increasing share of zero-emissions vehicles.

Governor’s support matters

The future of A.B. 1745 could depend on whether Gov. Jerry Brown (D) pushes aggressively to pass it, said Steve Maviglio, a Democratic strategist in California.

“A lot depends on how much of a big deal the governor’s going to make it,” Maviglio said. If it’s a priority of the governor, “that could make a world of difference,” Maviglio said. If Brown doesn’t support it outright, the bill’s chances are “less hopeful.”

Brown’s office yesterday declined to comment. In November, it offered a statement when asked about the idea of banning gas-fueled cars. Ting had said at that time that he planned to offer legislation in January.

“Given the existential challenge we face, the administration is looking at many, many possible measures — including additional action on electric vehicles — to help rapidly decarbonize the economy and protect the health of our citizens,” the Brown administration said late last year.

Maviglio said he believes Brown ultimately will back A.B. 1745, perhaps even mentioning it in his State of the State speech or his preliminary budget proposal later this month. If the governor does support it, that likely would lead to negotiations with moderate Democrats and Republicans.

Democrats control both chambers of the California Legislature. Maviglio noted, however, that the number of Democratic votes is in flux because of vacancies from resignations, some of them tied to charges of sexual improprieties by lawmakers.

Brown in 2015 supported passing a law that would have mandated a 50 percent cut in petroleum use by 2030. Democratic leaders were forced to cut that provision from S.B. 350 to get it passed, because of opposition from the oil industry and others. That bill, now a law, increased the state’s mandate for renewable electricity to 50 percent and required doubling the efficiency of existing buildings by 2030.

Greens likely to back it

Experts have said the state’s effort to eliminate polluting cars depends on how fast technology advances, how much battery costs fall and how the marketplace responds to a world with cheaper clean cars and more charging stations (Climatewire, Nov. 8, 2017). There also are issues about how far an EV can go on a charge and where it can repower. There are 14,000 EV charging stations in the state currently. There’s a far smaller number of places to refuel fuel-cell vehicles.

Ting’s office is also looking at offering legislation to help increase the number of EV charging stations in the state. Ting argues there is time for technology to advance and make his clean car mandate workable. He has said the internal combustion engine, at 100 years old, is a dated technology that’s “ripe for disruption.”

The measure purposely targets emissions, as opposed to gasoline and diesel cars, because the goal was to make it technology-neutral, Ting’s office said. Although right now emissions-free cars are limited, technology advances might make other cars eligible, an aide said.

The car industry is starting to shift toward more clean cars. General Motors Co. and Volvo are among the automakers saying they plan to embrace electrification. Maviglio, however, noted that there’s a difference between those companies moving ahead on their own and facing a mandate.

Environmental and health groups, meanwhile, are expected to support the proposal.

“With this legislation, California will be taking combustion polluting vehicles off the road and advancing zero-emission vehicles — helping us to finally address air pollution and better equipping us to combat climate change,” said Adrian Martinez, a staff attorney at Earthjustice.