100% Zero-Emission Vehicles by 2030? California Can Lead the Way

This month, California lost its decades-long lead at the environmental forefront. In the race to eliminate one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, Washington’s State Legislature raised the environmental bar by banning the sale of greenhouse gas-spewing cars as soon as 2030. That prompted Autoweek to declare, “Washington Races Ahead of California to Ban Gas Cars.”


It’s time for California to lead again with bold legislative action to establish a 2030 zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate and policies that support the transition.


Since the waiver given to California in the 1970 Clean Air Act, California’s clean vehicle standards have led the nation and been matched by more than a dozen states, creating a de facto national standard. Last September, Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order achieved a new high-water mark by creating a 2035 target for 100 percent of new cars sold in California to be zero-emission vehicles, meaning electric cars, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and other technologies that don’t use fossil fuels.


But since then, we’ve already been one-upped, and not just by Washington State. The UK has also announced a ban on gasoline cars by 2030. Norway is well on its way to meeting its goal of a 2025 ban. The proportion of sales of EVs in the EU went from 3% in 2019 to 10.5% in 2020, which is credited to setting strict policy standards to increase supply and national incentives to stimulate demand.


With our huge automobile market, California can make the rules. It’s not a coincidence that GM announced plans to sell only ZEV models by 2035 four months after Governor Gavin Newsom signed his executive order.


As a fourth-generation Californian, I take pride in the “new frontier” ethic and spirit of innovation in our state. That’s why we must question whether we are pushing hard enough if we aren’t the leader when it comes to adopting renewable energy to power our cars.


So where is the emerging political leadership? Luckily, it’s in a growing number of cities and public agencies. Since February, the Bay Area cities of Oakland, Richmond and Berkeley, as well as Culver City in the Los Angeles Metro area, have passed resolutions calling on the State to enact a 100% ZEV goal by 2030 or sooner.


As more cities join our coalition, we hope State leaders will hear what their constituents are saying. California legislators should reclaim our leadership and create a 2030 ZEV mandate and address the greatest current barriers to entry by building a fast-charging network and providing financial incentives for low-income consumers to purchase zero-emission vehicles.


The private sector is all ears. Californians are purchasing zero-emission vehicles at a higher rate than in any other state, and zero-emission vehicles have become our state’s single largest export industry. The country’s largest vehicle charging companies are headquartered in California, and at least 14 electric vehicle manufacturers call our state home. A 2030 goal will commit California to a green jobs economy in which our homegrown businesses will prosper.


The automobile industry is scrambling to meet this moment. GM will offer 30 EV models globally in its fleet by 2025 and plans to sell only ZEV models by 2035; Ford has pledged to only sell EVs in Europe by 2030; and Volvo has already transitioned exclusively to EV and hybrid cars, with a promise to be an exclusively electric car brand by 2030.


Meanwhile, according to research firm Bloomberg NEF, battery prices are dropping such that electric vehicles are expected to reach cost parity with gas vehicles within 3 years. That means there will be little reason for consumers not to buy the cleaner, zippier, and cheaper-to-operate alternative to gas cars.


Bill Gates has said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.”


California should not underestimate our ability to set the pace for accelerating this transition for the rest of the country. With foresight and vision, we can do this. The climate crisis is the existential problem of our age, and ZEV2030 is a big part of the solution.

Doug Linney is the founder and executive director of ZEV 2030. Doug has served the environmental community of California for more than 35 years as an advocate, political strategist, coalition builder and fundraiser. For more information on the ZEV2030 campaign, please visit www.zev2030.org.


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