By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
California Governor Gavin Newsom last Wednesday issued Executive Order N-79-20 establishing a state goal that “100 percent of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks will be zero-emission by 2035”. The order also establishes extensive regulatory goals and practices mandating research and reporting standards extending to energy generation facilities such as petroleum extraction, public transit, and environmental protection. The proffered policy guidance does not mandate, at least in its current format, that existing non-zero-emission vehicles be forceably withdrawn from service by a hard date. There does seem to be an implication that constraints mandated against petroleum generally might as a consequence be unviable to the consumer and usher them into zero-emissions vehicle ownership.
California has over the last several decades established itself as a de facto policy maker nationally given the size of the state in terms of market share and the state’s jurisdication over such share. The Executive Order presents a very large reach given the current dependence on petroleum fueled Internal Combustion Engines for passenger vehicles. The goals could be achievable. Whether or not the implementation cost is something the public is willing to accept remains to be seen.
The executive order reads in pertinant parts:
- It shall be a goal of the State that 100 percent of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks will be zero-emission by 2035. It shall be a further goal of the State that 100 percent of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in the State be zero-emission by 2045 for all operations where feasible and by 2035 for drayage trucks. It shall be further a goal of the State to transition to 100 percent zero-emission off-road vehicles and equipment by 2035 where feasible.
- The State Air Resources Board, to the extent consistent with State and federal law, shall develop and propose:
- (a) Passenger vehicle and truck regulations requiring increasing volumes of new zero-emission vehicles sold in the State towards the target of 100 percent of in-state sales by 2035.
- (b) Medium-and heavy-duty vehicle regulations requiring increasing volumes of new zero-emission trucks and buses sold and operated in the State towards the target of 100 percent of the fleet transitioning to zero-emission vehicles by 2045 everywhere feasible and for all drayage trucks to be zero-emission by 2035.
- (c) Strategies, in coordination with the other State agencies, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and local air districts, to achieve 100 percent zero-emission from off-road vehicles and equipment operations in the state by 2035.In implementing this Paragraph, the State Air Resources Board shall act consistently with technological feasibility and cost-effectiveness.
- The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, in consultation with the State Air Resources Board, Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission, State Transportation Agency, the Department of Finance and other State agencies, local agencies and the private sector, shall develop a Zero-Emissions Vehicle Market Development Strategy by January 31, 2021 and update every three years thereafter that:
- (a) Ensures coordinated and expeditious implementation of the system of policies, programs and regulations necessary to achieve the goals and orders established by this Order.
- (b) Outlines State agencies’ actions to support new and used zero-emission vehicle markets for broad accessibility for all Californians.
As a small aside, to me the goal of paragraph 3) above setting a timeline ending on January 31, 2021 to craft this market strategy is a bit aggressive and overly optimistic, especially given the lockdowns the governor’s office implemented on the COVID-19 subject. It is from a planning perspective ill advised to establish a base foundation to a program under short notice and it could generate a rather constrained and vulnerable long-term program that could manifest later problems. Given the broad scope of the Executive Order this might be difficult if the expectation is to be a full solution to everything. However a three year revisitiation of the topic is reasonable.
I also have confidence in and applaud the effort to address off-road vehicles for zero-emissions standards. It is for me a fully achievable goal and in all probability the easiest of the vehicles subject to the executive order to implement given the nature of off-road travel and technology available today. Already we have seen very promising technology currently available for electric motorcycles which offer good performance and reasonable range constraints.
The current ability of electric passenger cars is at the threashhold of success with sufficient range to be at near practical parity with gasoline vehicles for most trips that a consumer will experience daily. Price and the convienience of gasoline engines are for the most part currently the deciding factor for many consumers. Frankly as long as the consumer must face a fully electric vehicle that is often ten thousand dollars greater in price without subsidies for the same sized vehicle asks too much in my view–even among those consumers who truly desire to have at least one “green” car. Faith in the cause often is not enough given all other considerations.
Moving on to other paragraphs within the Executive Order, I quote:
6) The State Transportation Agency, the Department of Transportation and the California Transportation Commission, in consultation with the Department of Finance and other State agencies, shall by July 15, 2021 identify near term actions, and investment strategies, to improve clean transportation, sustainable freight and transit options, while continuing a “fix-it-first” approach to our transportation system, including where feasible:
a) Building towards an integrated, statewide rail and transit network, consistent with the California State Rail Plan, to provide seamless, affordable multimodal travel options for all.
b) Support bicycle, pedestrian, and micro-mobility options, particularly in low-income and disadvantaged communities in the state, by incorporating safe and accessible infrastructure into projects where appropriate.
c) Supporting light, medium, and heavy duty zero-emission vehicles and infrastructure as part of larger transportation projects, where appropriate.
While I agree that having a holistic approach to transportation is a reasonable and perhaps best approach, the above mandate to me harkens to a rather lofty proposal, especially given California’s white elephant rail projects that went billions over budget and were afflicted with many shortcomings. Promising all Californians access to rail projects is more wishful thinking than practicable. It is one thing to set a big goal that we can all work towards as a social and political instrument that can elicit some great outcomes but mandating a regulatory and financial black hole could prove a great distraction and detriment to other othwise achievable and reasonable projects that are not as politically sexy as a silver bullet train from San Diego to Goose Lake.
Private railroads did many decades ago electrify sections of their trunk lines. The Great Northern did this in Washington State as did the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific one hundred years ago with over four hundred miles of electrification among Montana and Idaho and a section in Washington between Othello and Tacoma. Both did use hydroelectric power when available. Given during these times locomotives used mainly coal-fired steam engines, electrification was undoubtedly less polluting. Yet in the end both roads did abandon their electric motor systems in favor of the diesel-electric strategy and cost was a preeminent attraction.
I’m not saying it is impossible to achieve a conversion of railroads to electric (or some other form of clean energy), perhaps in steps as was done a century ago where it was economically feasible. But the buildout of just the existing trackage requires almost a square one beginning. Europe has electrically driven trains. But the United States is not Europe, especially given the transcontinental distances the nation encompasses.
The goals established for the rail industry, while virtuous at first glance, I believe does not serve the goal of a zero-emission passenger and medium to large truck sector, which is actually a larger source of pollution than it is for rail. This probably should have been severed from this executive order and perhaps at a later time and under a different form of enabling been crafted separately.
While I am greately supportive of a nearly pollution-free transportation system, we have to be realistic in terms of our expectations and also remain vigilant that unintended consequences or spillover costs do not negate any gains realized with cars and trucks. It does not serve the cause of a clean environment when a zero-emissions car is charged by a coal-fired electric plant from another state because California over-regulated the local energy companies into insolvency and the coal plant was the only available company able to meet the high energy demand now caused by grid taxing hydrogen plants and electric car chargers. Or, that consumers delay replacing their gasoline engines because they do not have a charger conveniently available at their apartment building because the property owner could not afford the installation of a charging system and the building permit requirements.
As I mentioned earlier, the goals announced by Governor Newsom generally have good merit and might in effect represent an important tangible first step toward what is surely necessary for us as a people. It is still nevertheless incumbent upon us as citizens and policy makers to monitor the implementation of this policy to make sure it does live up to any promises of benevolence and efficacy.
By Darren Smith
Further Reading: CA Executive Order N-79-20