Driving toward a 2030 phaseout of gas cars in Washington state
© iStockphoto

Legislative leaders in Washington state are not waiting for the market to deliver an all-electric vehicle (EV) future. They are taking matters into their own hands with a bill that would require all model year 2030 and later cars to be electric.

The passage of the “Clean Cars 2030” bill would make Washington the first state in the country to legislate the shift to 100 percent EVs, leapfrogging ahead of California, with its executive order calling for the phaseout of new gas-powered cars by 2035.

In a recent poll, 59 percent of Washington state residents said they support the 2030 requirement — including 42 percent of the state’s Republicans.

ADVERTISEMENT

Achieving 100 percent electric new car sales by 2030 won’t happen without a strong policy push. In Washington state, EV were about 3 percent of new vehicles sold in 2020, and sales have been flat since 2018.  Fewer than 1 percent of the cars on Washington roads today are electric. Bloomberg predicts that only 30 percent of new cars sold in the U.S. will be electric by 2030, rising to just 60 percent by 2040. Costco is planning to build a new 30-pump gas station in a Seattle exurb — a big bet on gasoline’s future.

EV mandates solve a chicken-and-the-egg problem which has long held back EV sales. The problem goes like this: Automakers don’t offer many EV models because of low demand. Charging companies, property owners, and developers don’t install EV chargers because there are too few EVs to use them. And consumers don’t buy EVs because their desired models aren’t available, and there’s insufficient access to charging. The result of this conundrum is market uncertainty causing persistent underinvestment in the EV future.

By creating a large and certain market for EVs, EV requirements give automakers, charging providers, landlords, and consumers confidence that 100 percent of the auto market will be electric in the near future, thereby incentivizing private investment in electric vehicles and charging. And they have minimal impact on strained public budgets, by putting the burden of offering a wide selection of EV models at every price point on the automakers.

EV mandates enable state governments to make major carbon emissions reduction. According to our carbon modeling, requiring 100 percent of new cars to be electric by 2030 would prevent an estimated 120 million metric tons (MMT) of carbon dioxide emissions from Washington state compared to Bloomberg’s forecast. That’s more than a year’s worth of emissions for the entire Washington economy.

The Clean Cars 2030 bill avoids conflicting with federal laws covering vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards because it advances regulatory objectives strictly within state authority. For example, the legislation targets the three million gallons of motor oil and gasoline that wash into the Puget Sound Basin each year from gas car leaks and drips and threaten extinction of our salmon and orca populations — the volume equivalent of an Exxon Valdez spill every four years. Clean Cars 2030 stabilizes the electric grid, lowers electric rates, and spurs job creation — all strong reasons to enact the bill, entirely apart from emissions and fuel economy benefits. The mass shift to EVs will allow Washingtonians to save money by powering their vehicles with plentiful and cheap electricity generated by rain, wind, and sun, and gradually eliminating a $5 billion annual outflow to out-of-state oil companies. Instead of our fuel dollars going up in dirty smoke, money saved on gasoline will recirculate in the local economy and support renewable energy production.

ADVERTISEMENT

The passage of the Clean Cars 2030 bill will pressure California to move its 2035 gas car phaseout date forward to 2030 and inspire other states to make an accelerated switch to EVs. It will give the Biden administration leverage in negotiating with automakers on an accelerated timeline for a national gas car phaseout. It will push Congress and the administration to enable state gas car phaseouts by strengthening the authority of states to enact them. It will provide added certainty to business that the all-EV future is near and that investment in it will be profitable. The Washington bill will reinforce plans in the UK, the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, Iceland, and Slovenia to phase out gas cars by 2030, and motivate other countries to adopt the 2030 standard.

There is nothing preventing the phasing out gas cars by 2030 other than political inertia. The role of the states in our federal system is to push, stretch, and innovate toward a better future. This is a familiar role for the Evergreen State. Our companies redefined aviation, software and internet commerce. We pushed the nation toward marriage equality by building a successful people’s movement to change laws in the face of vigorous resistance. Now is Washington’s moment to lead again, and the stakes could not be higher.

Matthew Metz, based in Seattle and Janelle London, based in Menlo Park, Calif., are co-executive directors of Coltura, a nonprofit working to improve climate, health, and equity by accelerating the transition from gasoline and diesel to cleaner alternatives.