Energy & Environment

EPA questions legality of California’s attempt to phase out sales of gas-powered cars

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The federal government is raising legal and practical questions about a recent California executive order attempting to end sales of gas-powered cars in the state by 2035

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler wrote to California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Monday, saying he believes California would need to request a waiver from his agency for the order to be implemented and implying that the state’s electricity infrastructure is insufficient for a shift toward electric vehicles. 

“While the [executive order] seems to be mostly aspirational and on its own would accomplish very little, any attempt by the California Air Resources Board to implement sections of it may require California to request a waiver to U.S. EPA,” Wheeler wrote. 

The EPA last year revoked a waiver that allowed California to set its own vehicle tailpipe emissions standards, so it appears unlikely that the agency would grant one on car sales under the current administration. 

California, alongside 22 other states, has sued the agency over that decision, arguing that its standards were achievable and that the EPA’s decision is bad for climate change. 

The executive order also comes as California has recently faced rolling blackouts, Wheeler noted. 

“California’s record of rolling blackouts — unprecedented in size and scope — coupled with recent requests to neighboring states for power begs the question of how you expect to run an electric car fleet that will come with significant increases in electricity demand, when you can’t even keep the lights on today,” the country’s top environmental official wrote. 

“The truth is that if the state were driving 100 percent electric vehicles today, the state would be dealing with even worse power shortages than the ones that have already caused a series of otherwise preventable environmental and public health consequences,” he added. 

Newsom, when he announced the initiative, said it would help the state meet its climate goals and also help create jobs in the state.

“We will move forward to green and decarbonize our vehicle fleet … substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as oxide nitrogen, in so doing, we’ll improve air quality and improve the economic climate here in the state of California,” he said last week. 

Newsom spokesperson Jesse Melgar defended the order in a statement this week, saying, “While the Trump Administration tries to drive this country off a climate cliff, California is once again assuming the mantle of leadership in the fight against climate change.”

“We aren’t going to back down from protecting our kids’ health and the air they breathe,” Melgar said. 

Tags Air pollution Air pollution in California Andrew Wheeler California Climate change Electric vehicles Gavin Newsom

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