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California 2035 Zero-emission Vehicle Mandate is Illegal, Think Tank Says

Governor Gavin Newsom of California issued an executive order in 2020 mandating that by 2035, all newly sold passenger cars and trucks in the state be zero-emission vehicles. In addition, the directive establishes, where possible, a 100% zero-emission target for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by 2045. About 40% of California’s carbon footprint comes from the transportation sector, which is the target of the order, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

However, a number of organizations, including the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), a trade association for the oil and gas sector, have criticized and opposed the directive. In February 2024, the AFPM began a $7 million advertising campaign, arguing that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was not authorized to give California a waiver to enforce the order and that the directive is illegal.

The AFPM further contends that the order restricts Californians’ freedom of choice and mobility while ignoring the environmental effects of making and disposing of batteries for electric vehicles.

This article will look at the justifications and supporting documentation offered by the AFPM and other order opponents, as well as the rebuttals and counterarguments from the order’s proponents, including environmental organizations and the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

The Legal Challenge

One of the primary defenses used by the AFPM and other opponents of the order is that it violates the federal Clean Air Act, which grants the EPA the power to control fuel economy requirements and vehicle emissions. The Clean Air Act also permits California to request a waiver from the EPA in order to enact its own, more stringent regulations, provided that the state’s unique and compelling circumstances warrant them and that the regulations are at least as protective of the public’s health and welfare as the federal regulations.

Because of the state’s particular issues with air quality, particularly in the Los Angeles region, California has always asked for and been granted EPA exceptions for its car emissions regulations. The AFPM contends that the order effectively outlaws the sale of new gasoline-powered cars, which is outside the purview of the Clean Air Act and the EPA’s waiver authority. Instead, the order just regulates emissions.

The AFPM also references a 2020 Department of Justice legal opinion asserting that the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which establishes federal fuel efficiency standards and forbids state adoption or enforcement of fuel economy-related legislation or regulations, supersedes the directive.

On the other hand, the order’s proponents contend that it is merely a performance requirement that mandates that cars adhere to a set of emissions standards rather than a ban on gasoline-powered vehicles. They contend that California has shown the need for such regulations to address its climate and air quality concerns, and that the order is consistent with the Clean Air Act and the EPA’s waiver power.

They further point out that the directive permits some exclusions and flexibility for specific vehicle types, such plug-in hybrids, and does not forbid people from owning, operating, or purchasing secondhand gasoline-powered automobiles.

The AFPM and other organizations have stated that they plan to challenge the EPA if it granted California a waiver for the order, therefore the legal controversy surrounding it will probably be settled by the courts. The way the Clean Air Act and the EPA’s waiver authority are interpreted, as well as the economic and scientific arguments put up by each party, could all have an impact on how the case turns out.

The Environmental Impact

The AFPM and other opponents of the directive also argue that it ignores the environmental effects of creating and discarding batteries for electric vehicles, which they contend are more hazardous than vehicles that run on gasoline. Citing research, they contend that when battery mining, production, shipping, charging, and recycling are taken into account, the life cycle of an electric car results in increased emissions and energy usage. Additionally, they contend that since fossil fuels are used to generate electricity for electric vehicles, the advantages of lowering exhaust emissions are nullified.

Opponents of the directive, however, refute these assertions and provide research demonstrating that, even after taking into consideration the manufacturing and disposal of batteries, the life cycle emissions and energy consumption of electric vehicles is reduced. Additionally, they contend that electricity from renewable sources, like solar and wind power, which are becoming more and more accessible and reasonably priced in California, can be used to power electric cars. Additionally, they note that the order is a component of a larger plan to decarbonize the transportation industry, which also include boosting public transportation, investing in sustainable energy infrastructure, and encouraging active transportation options like biking and walking.

The assumptions and methodologies used to analyze the life cycle emissions and energy consumption of various vehicle types, as well as the mix and accessibility of electrical sources in California, may have an impact on the order’s environmental effects. The effect may also differ according on the size and kind of the car, the consumer’s driving habits, and the battery industry’s recycling and disposal policies.

The Consumer Choice and Freedom

The AFPM and other opponents of the directive argue, among other things, that it restricts Californians’ freedom of choice and ability to travel, since they may require or prefer gasoline-powered vehicles for a variety of reasons. They contend that gasoline-powered vehicles are more affordable, dependable, and convenient than electric vehicles, and that electric vehicles do not meet the demands and preferences of all customers, particularly those who travel long distances, reside in remote places, or have restricted access to charging stations. Additionally, they assert that the decision will negatively impact the economy and the jobs in the oil and gas sector, which supplies millions of Californians with services and fuel.

The order’s proponents, however, refute these assertions, claiming that electric cars are more cost-effective, efficient, and convenient than gasoline-powered cars in addition to providing a number of consumer advantages like tax breaks, improved performance, and reduced maintenance costs. Additionally, they contend that the order would open up new doors and generate employment for the transportation and clean energy sectors, which will supply millions of Californians with cars and other services. They also point out that the directive allows for some flexibility and exclusions for specific vehicle types, such plug-in hybrids, and does not force people to purchase electric vehicles—rather, it gives them more options and incentives to do so.

The availability and cost of electric cars and charging stations in California, as well as the demands and preferences of various customers, including their location, income, values, and way of life, may all have an impact on the freedom and choice available to consumers. The oil and gas business, the clean energy and transportation industries, as well as low-income and disadvantaged populations, may all be affected differently by the order in terms of both the economy and society.


In an effort to lessen greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from the transportation industry, California’s governor Gavin Newsom signed an order in 2020 requiring all new passenger vehicles and trucks sold in the state to be zero-emission by 2035. This is an ambitious and contentious program. Numerous organizations, including the AFPM, a trade association for the oil and gas sector, have opposed and criticized the decision, arguing that it is unlawful, detrimental to the environment, and detrimental to the economy. A number of organizations, including the CARB and environmental organizations, have praised and supported the order, arguing that it is lawful, good for the environment, and economically feasible.

The order brings up a number of points and queries that could have a big impact on energy, transportation, and climate change in California and abroad in the future. Among these concerns and inquiries are:

  • What is the legal basis and authority of the order and the EPA s waiver for it under the federal Clean Air Act and other laws?
  • What is the environmental impact of the order and the electric vehicles it promotes, considering the life cycle emissions and energy consumption of different types of vehicles and electricity sources?
  • What is the consumer choice and freedom of the order and the electric vehicles it offers, considering the availability and affordability of different types of vehicles and charging stations, and the preferences and needs of different consumers?
  • What is the economic and social impact of the order and the electric vehicles it supports, considering the costs and benefits for different sectors and groups, such as the oil and gas industry, the clean energy and transportation industry, and the low-income and disadvantaged communities?

These problems and inquiries might not have clear-cut solutions since their resolution may rely on a number of variables and presumptions, including how the law is interpreted, the analytical techniques used, the data sources, and the viewpoints and values of the parties involved. Thus, in order to make well-informed and impartial judgments regarding the future of energy, transportation, and the climate in California and abroad, it is crucial to consider the arguments and data put forth by all sides of the argument as well as the advantages and disadvantages of the order and its alternatives.

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