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Michael Swartz / Sep. 25, 2020

The End of the Road for Gas-Powered Cars in Cali?

The state's pursuit of an overly ambitious "green" agenda has consequences.

It was 50 years ago that California received a special gift from Congress: permission to mandate that automakers install special smog-fighting exhaust systems on cars sold in the state. California’s geography and climate, along with the rapid increase of population and traffic in the 1950s and ‘60s, created the “compelling and extraordinary conditions” that allowed the Golden State to adopt more stringent rules than those in effect nationally. To maintain access to California’s huge and lucrative market, automakers had no choice but to comply, offering a “California emissions” package as an additional accessory in the state. In the decades since, a handful of other states, mainly along the coasts, have adopted California’s standards as their own.

Yet even with this special carveout, California Governor Gavin Newsom must have felt he wasn’t doing enough to combat climate change. Following the lead of several European nations, Newsom this week signed an executive order banning the sale of gas-powered cars in the state beginning in 2035. “What we’re advancing here today is a strategy to address that [climate] crisis head on,” announced Newsom, “to be as bold as the problem is big.” Unlike other nations’ orders, though, the California order extends to medium- and heavy-duty trucks and construction vehicles beginning in 2045.

Newsom’s action comes with some opposition. As John Bozzella, CEO of an auto industry group called the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, explained, “Neither mandates nor bans build successful markets. What builds successful markets is widespread stakeholder engagement: a combination of efforts by federal, state, and local governments, as well as automakers, dealers, utilities, hydrogen providers, electric infrastructure providers, builders, and others.”

Nor is the federal government on board. In fact, the Trump administration tried to bring California to heel by revoking the state’s special exemption, prompting it to sue the administration.

This whole question could become moot, though, if Trump wins reelection and the conservative majority on the Supreme Court agrees that California has gone too far with its stringent mandates.

But because of its history and political leanings — and much to the chagrin of many of its residents — California has a leg up on the rest of us in embracing such a ban. It already has the largest market for electric cars in the nation, although the aggregate 156,000 electric cars sold there last year is only a fraction of the number of Ford F-Series pickups Detroit cranks out every year.

While the desire may be there, what California doesn’t have right now is a reliable source of all the power that’ll be needed to run all those new Teslas and other electric models. A summer full of blackouts during a heat wave indicates this could be a real problem, particularly when a renewable energy mandate is putting reliable sources such as natural gas out of play.

Of course, Newsom’s order, if it stands, presumes that there will actually be folks left in California by then. As The Babylon Bee jokes, “By the year 2035, the move is expected to completely eliminate all gasoline car carbon emissions, smog, and California residents.” Heck, even the maker of California’s popular Tesla has been questioning whether to stay in the state. Elon Musk is quite possibly bound for Texas in the coming months, and it’s logical that his company may follow.

Musk and Tesla would be the latest in a wave of residents and businesses that are leaving California in droves thanks to the blackouts, fires, pervasive lawbreaking, astronomical housing prices, and general decline in living standards for anyone who can’t afford a gated community with security. Already billions in debt from its last boondoggle to get cars off the road by trying to build a railroad that goes from nowhere to nowhere, this latest paean to Gaia won’t help. In fact, it’ll do more damage to the state’s economy and create the biggest market for used cars and vintage parts this side of Cuba. The black market for gasoline alone will be a sight to behold.

California can’t manage its forests because of environmentalist do-gooders who think they know better, and it can’t seem to keep the lights on to boot. Why should we be surprised that its public servants didn’t think this one through, either?

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