California’s move to ban sales of new gasoline-fueled cars could spread to other states

In a historic vote in August, California regulators agreed to ban the sale of new gasoline-fueled cars by 2035. Because the state is the largest auto market in the U.S., the move could lead to a nationwide shift. But as Amna Nawaz reports, there are still many barriers to American drivers going fully electric.

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  • William Brangham:

    In a historic vote last month, California state regulators agreed to ban the sale of any new gasoline-powered cars by 2035.

    Because California is the largest auto market in the U.S., the move could spur a faster nationwide shift to electric vehicles.

    But, as Amna Nawaz reports, there are still many barriers to American drivers going fully electric.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In just a little over a decade, the simple act of filling up at a gas station will become obsolete for millions of California drivers, that after this vote by the California Air Resources Board, the state's clean air regulator.

    In mid-August, they unanimously backed requiring all new cars and light trucks be zero-emission by 2035.

  • Liane Randolph, Chair, California Air Resources Board:

    I just really want to thank all of the hard work that went into building this package and putting together something that is world-changing.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It was two years ago that California Governor Gavin Newsom first issued an executive order including that 2035 target.

  • Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA):

    In the next 15 years, we will eliminate in the state of California the sales of internal combustion engines.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There are short-term targets in the meantime; 35 percent of all those vehicles must be hybrid or fully powered by battery or fuel cells by 2026, 68 percent by 2030. And manufacturers who fail to meet targets will have to buy credits from other manufacturers who've surpassed them or face a $20,000 dollar for every vehicle they fail to produce.

  • Daniel Sperling, California Air Resources Board:

    As I was voting, I said, this is perhaps the most important action I have taken in my life.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Dan Sperling is a member of the California Air Resources Board. He also heads the Institute of Transportation Studies at U.C. Davis.

  • Daniel Sperling:

    We are transforming the automobile industry in ways that we haven't done since the Model T and Henry Ford.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Transportation is the top source of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and light-duty vehicles, like the cars and trucks targeted by this mandate, are the largest transportation source of those emissions.

    Margo Oge, Chair, International Council on Clean Transportation: This is a huge deal.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Margo Oge led the EPA's transportation emissions program under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. She hails the new policy, but warned it's not a silver bullet.

  • Margo Oge:

    This action by itself will not zero out the impacts of climate change, but it will help us to avert the worst consequences of climate change.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    California's rule still needs EPA approval, which the Biden administration has indicated it will likely grant.

    Its impact, though, could reach far beyond the Golden State. Seventeen states comprising about 40 percent of national car sales already follow California's vehicle emission standards. Experts say most will likely apply the new mandate once it's approved. At least three of those states have so-called trigger laws in place, automatically matching California's standards.

    In Virginia, that trigger law has triggered a political fight.

  • Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA):

    My fellow Virginians.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, who came into office this year, has vowed to rescind the law passed last year by state Democrats, saying — quote — "California's out-of-touch laws have no place in our commonwealth."

  • Mike Myers, Actor:

    Our takeover of General Motors is complete.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But even the auto industry is moving aggressively towards electric.

  • Seth Green, Actor:

    Climate change is arguable the number one threat to the world now.

  • Rob Lowe, Actor:

    Dr. Evil, you are now the number two threat to the world.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    General Motors, the number two automaker in America and sixth in the world, has vowed to phase out tailpipe emissions for its cars, trucks and SUVs by 2035.

  • Narrator:

    Can a truck change everything?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Just this year, rival Ford, number three in the country, released an all-electric version of its best selling F-150 pickup truck. The company says it's aiming for electric vehicles to make up 40 percent of global sales by 2030.

  • Narrator:

    Helping write the next chapter.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    There are hurdles ahead, cost, for one. The average electric vehicle costs $66,000, the average internal combustion vehicle, $48,000.

  • Diane Takvorian, California Air Resources Board:

    The price point for new cars just continues to go up.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Diane Takvorian is on the California Air Resources Board, and she is the executive director of an environmental justice nonprofit. She worries about who the new mandate leaves behind.

  • Diane Takvorian:

    We know that most people in general don't purchase new cars. About 75 percent are more likely to purchase used cars. We should provide incentives for those consumers, so that they get a benefit from purchasing a zero emission vehicle as well.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Experts also warn of the toll on the country's electric grid, as more people charge their cars and more charging stations are added, a grid already under the pressure of more frequent extreme weather events.

    Just last week, amid another heat wave, California's power grid operators specifically asked electric car owners not to plug in during peak hours.

    Could our existing grid handle adding that many electric vehicles to it?

  • Daniel Sperling:

    The existing grid can probably handle our electric vehicles for, say, the next five to 10 years. You know, if vehicles are charged at night and off-peak, then we can do it. But, at some point, we are going to need a significant upgrade and expansion of the grid.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Another big challenge, batteries in electric cars rely on certain meddles and minerals.

    Robert Armstrong of the MIT Energy Initiative says cost and availability are issues.

  • Robert Armstrong, Director, MIT Energy Initiative:

    There are some concerns with the limited number of locations around the world where these materials are found.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    About 70 percent of cobalt used in electric vehicle batteries comes from a single country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And up to 80 percent of the battery supply chain is owned by another.

  • Robert Armstrong:

    Processing is dominated by one country, and that's China. And so we need to think about diversity of supply that allows us security in how we can resource and provide for the well-being and economic prosperity of the U.S.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The federal government is spurring this development, including in President Biden's $430 billion climate, health care and tax bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: It gives consumers a tax credit to buy electric vehicles or fuel cell vehicles, new or used.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Those rebates contain restrictions designed to encourage more electric vehicle and battery production in the U.S. Carmakers are rushing into this space. Last week alone, GM started production at a battery plant in Ohio, and Honda and LG Energy announced plans to build a $4.4 billion battery plant in the U.S.

    California's targets may face challenges in the courts by red states, but former regulator Margo Oge is optimistic about an all-electric future.

  • Margo Oge:

    It's going to be a success story, setting aside all the legal and other issues that are in front of us.

    What we're going to see, in my view, is huge support, and not just from the Democratic states and NGOs, but we're going to see it from the industry itself.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And, she hopes, an open road ahead.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

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