Editorial: Goodbye and good riddance to gas-powered cars

Congested L.A. freeway
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order requiring that all new cars sold in California in 2035 be zero-emission models.
(Los Angeles Times)
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California has made it official: This is the beginning of the end of the gasoline-powered car. For the health of the state and the planet, the demise of the tailpipe can’t come soon enough.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday requiring that all new cars and light pickup trucks sold in California in 2035 be zero-emission vehicles.

That will be a huge market shift. Only about 8% of vehicles sold in California last year were electric or plug-in hybrid models. Zero-emission vehicles still only make up a small fraction of the cars on the road.


The slowness of the transition to zero-emission cars is exactly why Newsom and state leaders have to be more aggressive. There is no way California will meet its clean-air requirements or its ambitious goals to fight climate change without expeditiously removing fossil-fuel powered vehicles from the roads.

The transportation sector is responsible for more than half of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. While other sectors, most notably the state’s power systems, have reduced their carbon footprint, the opposite is true for the transportation sector, which is producing more emissions, even as cars and trucks have gotten cleaner.

And this is not just a climate change threat. Cars, trucks and other vehicles are responsible for 80% of smog-forming pollution and 95% of toxic diesel emissions. The concentrated pollution from fossil fuel vehicles is choking communities today in Southern California and the Central Valley.

Time is running out. In fact, Newsom’s mandate to phase out gas-powered cars may even be too little, too late.

A report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions have to rapidly decline by 2030 to prevent the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — which was the goal of the 2015 Paris agreement. Yet, as of now, worldwide carbon emissions continue to increase.

We can’t wait until 2035 to transition to clean vehicles. The California Air Resources Board will develop regulations to carry out the governor’s order on phasing out fossil fuel cars. The board will require that manufacturers make zero-emission vehicles a much larger share of their fleets sold in California, much more quickly. California will have to offer more financial incentives for car buyers, at least until the price of an electric car is closer to the price of a gas-powered model. And the state will have to work with utilities to vastly expand the charging infrastructure.

The state rules won’t prevent people from continuing to own gas-powered cars in 2035 or selling them on the used market, Newsom said. Still, California will also have to look at programs to encourage people to scrap their old gas-fueled car rather than sell it.


Newsom ended his press conference Thursday by name-checking the Republicans who have been leaders on clean air. Then-Gov. Reagan fought for California’s right to set its own, tougher vehicle emission standards. President Nixon signed the 1970 Clean Air Act, which gave California the right to set pollution standards for cars. President George H.W. Bush greatly expanded the Clean Air Act in 1990. And Gov. Schwarzenegger signed California’s landmark 2006 law to fight climate change.

Clean air used to be a bipartisan issue. Now we have President Trump, who has spent his entire first term trying to roll back fuel economy rules and curtail California’s power to set its own clean-car standards. If reelected in November, he will surely continue his misguided crusade to put the demands of the fossil fuel industry above the health of the public and the planet.

The state is already feeling the effects of climate change with record-high temperatures and record-year wildfires. We cannot wait for the federal government to step up, or be deterred by Trump’s denial of science and facts. California has to take the lead, again.