A previous effort to ban automobiles that burn fossil fuel by 2040 was never able to gather enough support to be approved by the California legislature. Yet through the power of a pen, a phone, and a stylish California bear jacket, Gov. Gavin Newsom has decreed that they must be gone five years sooner.
Executive order N-79-20, which the governor signed Wednesday at a news conference with the locked gates of Cal Expo at his back, declares that “it shall be a goal of the state that 100% of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks will be zero-emission by 2035.” Medium- and heavy-duty vehicles will have to be “zero-emission by 2045,” off-road vehicles and equipment by 2035.
Newsom took a bit of criticism for bypassing the lawmaking process.
“Should’ve gone thru the legislature. Kinda what we’re here for,” Republican Sen. Ling Ling Chang from Diamond Bar tweeted.
Democratic Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco doesn’t seem to mind, though. He released a statement, overflowing with hyperbole, in which he said “I applaud the governor for putting us on a path that’s … crucial for our planet.”
It was Ting’s Assembly Bill 1745, which would have prohibited the registration of cars that weren’t classified as zero-emission vehicles by 2040, that never got as far as a committee vote. Another Ting bill, this one aimed at increasing the government bribe to buy zero-emission vehicles – a brazenly misleading label – also failed.
When asked why he skipped over the Legislature, Newsom justified his actions by claiming “this moment demands leadership, demands movement.” By that logic, any executive, from a president down to a mayor, can autocratically make law as long as he or she believes something sincerely enough. The governor also pulled the “believe in science” card, a now-tired phrase that’s lost all meaning, good only as a schoolyard insult for those bucking the narrative.
While explicit in targeting gasoline and diesel automobiles, the executive order didn’t include a ban on fracking. Nevertheless, the governor is asking lawmakers “to end the issuance of new hydraulic fracturing permits by 2024.”
He also ordered the state Geologic Energy Management Division to “propose a significantly strengthened, stringent, science-based health and safety draft rule that protects communities and workers from the impacts of oil extraction,” which means the required distance between oil and gas wells, and homes, schools and businesses is likely to be increased.
Once implemented, these new rules “will chase away the existing industry that creates hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in incomes and economic activity in the state,” says PRI senior fellow Wayne Winegarden, in “the midst of one of the steepest economic declines on record.”
While Newsom spoke for more than 20 minutes before taking questions for almost 20 more, issued a nearly 1,000-word news release and a 1,500-word executive order, a particularly significant point that never came up was California’s contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions. So, allow us to fill in that blank for him. It’s roughly 1 percent.
Which means there’s little California can do to impact the climate by itself.
The governor tacitly admitted this when during his news conference he suggested his order is a model others need to follow.
“If you want to reduce asthma, if you want to mitigate the rise of sea level, if you want to mitigate the loss of ice sheets around the globe, then this is a policy for other states to follow, for other states and nations to emulate,” he said, with no regard to the science that disputes his claim.
The governor can hype the state’s “leadership,” and talk about it “driving this accelerated change,” but nothing done by California politicians will cool emissions from China and India. The former “is still building an insane number of new coal plants” – “more than is being built in the rest of the world combined,” says Wired, while “coal is king” in the latter, and is “likely to remain so.” Both countries are struggling to produce energy, and need the affordability and reliability that is the gift of fossil fuels. They won’t be moved by California’s effort to impress the world with its green street cred.
For all the high-minded rhetoric and appeals to not let down our kids and grandchildren, the governor’s executive order, Wednesday’s news conference, the governor’s climate panel afterward, and Thursday’s California Climate Action Day added up to little more than a grand exercise in virtue signaling. That doesn’t mean things won’t change. They will. But not for the better.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.