AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
On Thursday, California regulators voted to require that all new passenger cars and trucks sold in the state run on electricity or hydrogen after 2035, the latest move by state officials to “phase out” the use of all gas and diesel-powered vehicles. In addition to posing a severe challenge for California’s already strained power grid, the decision threatens to send the state’s economy tumbling – likely taking the rest of the country with it.
The new rule, which was released by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) two years after Governor Gavin Newsom first directed the Board to consider such a policy, was hailed as a major victory for environmental activists, even as economists and engineers expressed major reservations. According to the policy, 35% of new passenger vehicles sold by 2026 must produce “zero emissions,” a requirement that climbs to 68% by 2030. By 2035, one-fifth of new car sales in the state can be plug-in hybrids (electric vehicles that switch over to a gas-powered engine for longer distances), but the rest must be powered solely by electricity or hydrogen.
Though California leads the country in number of registered EVs by far – more than 550,000 – that figure still pales in comparison to the more than 30 million total registered vehicles in the state. In the first three months of this year, just 16% of new cars sold in California were electric, a percentage that would have to more than double in just four years in order to be in compliance with the plan.
Conservatives and auto industry leaders have been quick to point out, however, that EVs are hardly the “environmentally friendly,” “zero emission” solution that California Democrats – and the rest of the liberal establishment – have billed them as. Though the vehicles themselves produce zero emissions, they still must be charged using electricity from power generating stations. Even in California, 65% of that electricity is produced using nonrenewable sources. More electric cars means more burning of coal, oil, and natural gas at those power plants. Additionally, EV batteries, which last about 15 years, mostly end up in landfills, where they release dangerous toxins into the environment (and that’s not even to mention the serious environmental and human rights concerns associated with lithium and cobalt mining for EV battery manufacturing).
There are also major doubts about whether or not California’s energy grid will even be able to handle the increase in demand brought on by such a large increase in the number of EVs on the road in such a short time. According to one analysis from the University of Texas, if every vehicle in California were to go electric, the state would need to produce 47% more electricity than it does today. That’s likely unwelcome news for Californians who are already facing rolling blackouts thanks to the state’s overreliance on renewable energy.
Banning gas cars in California is also likely to have ripple effects throughout the rest of the U.S. economy. A number of other Democrat-led states like New York and Oregon have, for instance, indicated that they will follow California’s lead, leaving automakers in a difficult position. Even Virginia has passed legislation that forces it to adhere to California regulations. California alone represents a full 10% of the overall U.S. car market, meaning that its laws can – and have – shaped the direction of the market for the entire country. The problems that this decision poses for California are thus likely to be exported to other states, whether they agree with the policy or not.
With fewer gas cars on the road, many gas stations will likely go out of business, making it more difficult for those with gas cars to get around. In addition to posing a severe burden on people in rural parts of the state, this will also discourage tourism from other states, an industry that contributes more than $100 billion annually to California’s economy.
At the same time as this policy is going into effect on passenger vehicles, a series of perhaps even more devastating laws and regulations are also set to take effect to “phase out” medium- and heavy-duty gas- and diesel-powered trucks. On January 1, 2023, some 76,000 trucks with engines built before 2010 will no longer be allowed to operate under a different set of CARB regulations. By 2040, all new medium- and heavy-duty trucks sold in the state must also be fully electric – posing an enormous cost for transportation companies, which will no doubt be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.
The new truck regulations are particularly bad news for California’s vital agricultural sector. California is far and away the country’s most productive agricultural state, accounting for more than 13% of U.S. agricultural production value – some $25 billion annually. The state leads the nation in the production of 77 different crops and livestock, and accounts for more than 99% of U.S. production of 14 specialty crops such as almonds, olives, and raisins.
All of these products have to be transported to the rest of the country. According to USDA data, 95% of the time that means a diesel-powered semi-truck. Even if farms and ranches can afford expensive new electric trucks, and even if California installs thousands of new electric vehicle charging stations specifically for electric trucks, it is powerless to force other states to do so, meaning that produce might have to be shipped via electric truck in California and switched to diesel-powered trucks for the rest of the journey – increasing costs and slowing down shipments. The result is that the nearly one million Californians who work in the agricultural sector are likely to have their lives and livelihoods upended, while the rest of the country can expect to pay significantly more for produce.
Notably, these new rules must all be approved by the Biden administration under the provisions of the 1970 Clean Air Act. While officials at the Environmental Protection Agency are expected to do so without delay, they may want to reconsider, lest they risk throttling the country further toward economic ruin.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_
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