Have gasoline governors

California: No more fuel swallowers

Gavin Newsom took a bold step when he recently announced his intention to ban all new sales of gasoline-powered cars. The motto of the governor of California: No more gas guzzlers. He believes this is an important step in helping California meet its goal of becoming climate neutral by 2045. But trying to eradicate this largest source of CO2 emissions in the most populous US state is likely to run into serious legal hurdles - especially if Donald Trump were to be re-elected in November.

Newsom ordered that state agencies, including the California Air Resources Board, which is responsible for clean air in the state, develop laws to ensure that all new cars and trucks sold in the state are emission-free by 2035 . In plain language, this means that in future only electric vehicles will be sold that run on batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. Most of the new commercial vehicles should also be emission-free by 2045.

The implementation is to take place through various measures - for example through direct bans on internal combustion engines or through subsidies for electric vehicles and other political measures that are sometimes more strictly, sometimes more loosely implemented over time. Should these laws really take effect, it would be one of the most aggressive government climate policy approaches imaginable - with enormous effects on the automotive industry. The approximately two million new vehicles that are sold in California each year would then all be electric vehicles, which would give the still young vehicle category a gigantic boost. Almost 40 million people live in California.

Promote traffic turnaround

"California's legislation, particularly in the automotive industry, has a domino effect across the United States and internationally - simply because our market is so large," said Alissa Kendall, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California at Davis.

And indeed: The regulation would mean that more car companies would produce more electric vehicle series, so that production would be more extensive and costs would be lower. The growing market would in turn create more incentives to set up the necessary infrastructure consisting of charging stations and hydrogen refueling. The way would then be paved for a broad turnaround in traffic with cleaner vehicles. The move could also significantly reduce emissions from vehicles. In California, cars and trucks together cause more than 35 percent of greenhouse gases, a number that is particularly difficult to reduce in the sprawling state with its car-loving residents (in fact, vehicle emissions are rising again in California).

But Newsom's regulation doesn't cover everything. There is no mention of airplanes, diesel-powered trains (of which there are many) or ships, and it could be a few decades before residents no longer drive the gasoline-powered vehicles that are already on the streets. Whether the regulations can be enforced at all and to what extent depends on many variables. Among other things, what legal basis the Air Resources Board will rely on to legitimize the law, says Danny Cullenward, a lecturer at Stanford Law School and an expert on environmental law.

Presidential election will be decisive

One likely way is for the environmental agency to rely on new emissions standards. California has relied on this in the past to force automakers to produce fuel-efficient vehicles, which has driven the national standard. However, this approach may require new powers for local legislation, which the US environmental protection agency EPA would first have to grant - and which is located in Washington and is dominated by the Trump administration. Only then could California make even more radical decisions under the Clean Air Act. The first heated discussions have already begun.

Last year, Trump announced that he would withdraw the earlier U.S. government clearance that allowed California to set stricter standards. California and New York then filed a lawsuit. So whether California can take its planned path depends on how the courts will evaluate this case and who will be in the White House at the end of January. It is very likely that the automotive industry will not simply stand by and stand by the legislation, regardless of how the state ultimately implements it. And the outcome of these arguments could then depend on who ultimately sits in the Supreme Court, which Trump can occupy increasingly conservatively.

But whatever legal hurdles California faces, the same applies to the state as everywhere: vehicle emissions must be reduced. This is the only way to hope to stop or at least slow down climate change, says Dave Weiskopf, senior policy advisor at NextGen Policy in Sacramento. "That's what science demands - and it's the next logical step in government regulation."


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