California Leads The EV Revolution — Part Deux

Just a few days ago, I wrote an article entitled California Leads The EV Revolution, after that state announced a ban on the sale of diesel- and gasoline-powered passenger vehicles starting in 2035. Some readers took exception to that title, claiming it was “clickbait.” Well, here’s a few headlines from around the country just a few days after that story was published:

  • WA will ban new gas-powered cars by 2035, following California’s leadSeattle Times
  • Following California’s lead, Oregon exploring ban on gas-powered vehiclesOregon Public Broadcasting
  • California’s 2035 ban on new gas-powered cars set to apply to VirginiaVirginia Mercury

Still think California is not leading the EV revolution? Think again. Yeah, I know. Lots of other countries and cities are also pushing the electric vehicle envelope, and good for them. But in the US, at this moment in time, California is the tail wagging the dog and in a big way.

Here’s the thing many people may miss. There are currently 14 other jurisdictions in the US which have agreed to follow the emissions policies established by the California Air Resources Board. They are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia. In addition, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Nevada are considering becoming CARB compliant states.

Being “CARB compliant” means when California updates its rules and policies, they also automatically apply to those other states and DC. So now, because of California, a total of 14 states and DC will soon have a ban on the sale of ICE vehicles by 2035. If that isn’t leadership, I don’t know what is.

Washington Steps Up Its EV Plans

Washington already had a policy in place that envisions only battery-electric new cars being sold within the state by 2030, but that is more of a hope than a requirement. Now, because of California enacting a ban on ICE cars by 2035, that state is taking steps to convert what was only a wish into a promise. This week, Governor Jay Inslee said Washington would follow California’s lead and ban the sale of new gas-powered light duty vehicles by 2035, according to the Seattle Times. “This is a critical milestone in our climate fight,” Inslee said in a tweet.

Anna Lising, senior climate adviser to Inslee, said Washington still intends to meet its 2030 goal. “We think of the California regulation as the floor and we’ve set a new ceiling of trying to get that done by 2030.” Washington knows it will need to have the charging infrastructure ready to support the transition to electric vehicles. There is a lot of hard work ahead, but the ravages caused by a warming planet can no longer be ignored.

Oregon Is On Board

Motor vehicles account for 40% of Oregon’s carbon emissions. That state already has rules in place to encourage the purchase of electric vehicles, but now, because of California’s new policy, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality is taking steps to align its policies with those of its neighbor to the south. In a statement reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting, it said it is already in the process of creating its own Advanced Clean Cars II Rules.

A DEQ advisory committee will convene next week. A public comment period will begin this fall and the rules could be up for vote by the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission by the end of the year. Charles Boyle, deputy communications director for Governor Kate Brown, said Oregon has taken a comprehensive approach toward a clean energy future. “Reducing emissions from the transportation sector is a significant component of that plan, and Oregon has already established goals for electric vehicle adoption with a focus on making EVs accessible for people living in rural communities, people of color, and people with low incomes,” he said in an email.

Virginia, Too

Virginia voted in 2021 to become a “CARB compliant” state. Does that mean it now must ban the sale of new gasoline- and diesel-powered light duty passenger vehicles by 2035? The answer, according to the Virginia Mercury, is yes. Assistant Attorney General Michael Jagels has considered the question and concluded that Virginia is “bound” by the California decision because the state chose to be “statutorily and regulatorily aligned with California.” To do otherwise would require “an amendment or repeal of the mandating legislation,” Jagels wrote. A senior Republican confirmed separately that attorneys with the state’s legislative branch had reached the same conclusion.

The decision to become a CARB compliant state was opposed by Republicans but supported by car dealers. Why would that be? Don Hall, president of the Virginia auto dealer association, says that support had little to do with concern over environmental or climate change issues. “It’s really not about that. It’s the fact that (the big automakers) have made the commitment to manufacture and provide EVs, and I don’t want to see Virginia’s dealers be left out in the cold and not have EVs available.

“Part of the logic of buying into CARB in Virginia last year when all this was done was it was the only way we were going to get an appropriate number of EVs in Virginia. To some degree, it’s a self-curing problem. The question is when does it self-cure by.”

The Takeaway

Under the federal Clean Air Act, states are forbidden from establishing their own vehicle emissions standards, but the law allows the states to choose to adopt the stricter rules set by California if they wish. But it’s an all or nothing proposition. If a state elects to abide by the California rules, it must enforce all of them. It can’t decide to adopt some and not others.

Some say the California ICE ban is too little too late and there is some truth to that. On the world stage, it is far less aggressive than many other policies designed to push the EV revolution forward. The UK, for instance, has set 2030 as the date when its ban on gasoline- and diesel-powered cars will take effect.

But in the US, the Golden State has been the leader at setting exhaust emissions standards for decades. It was the first state to mandate the sale of unleaded gasoline. And now it is setting policies that ban the sale of light duty vehicles with gasoline or diesel engines by 2035. As California goes, so goes America. All those non-CARB states may refuse to enact similar bans but it won’t make any difference.

As Don Hall in Virginia says, ultimately its a self-curing situation. The automakers are not going to build two different fleets of cars — one for CARB states and another for non-CARB states. Just as Volkswagen has elected to stop selling its conventional cars in Norway before it is required to by Norwegian law, the transition to electric cars in America will likely be fully completed long before 2035 arrives.


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