A clean energy advocate in the California Legislature wants internal combustion vehicles to sputter out of existence on the state’s roads and highways.
“The cars that we drive today are based on technology that’s 100 years old,” said Assembly member Phil Ting, D-San Francisco. “It’s almost like we’re doing addition with the world’s most efficient abacus. (The auto industry) is due for a much more efficient and much better type of vehicle and engine.”
Ting plans to introduce a bill when the California Legislature reconvenes in January that would ban the sale of vehicles powered by gasoline by 2040.
The specifics of the legislation have not yet been written but Ting says it’s necessary for the state to reach its long-term goals of dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.
“To continue on this path, we’re going to have air that people can’t breathe or that is completely unhealthy,” said Ting.
The proposed bill may sound radical to some but Ting said it anticipates a number of technological improvements in the electric car auto industry, such as falling costs of batteries.
Plus, a growing number of countries have recently announced their intentions to effectively put the brakes on the internal combustion engine.
The United Kingdom and France have announced plans to phase out gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040. Earlier this month, the federal council of all 16 states in Germany — home of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi — passed a non-binding resolution to ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2030.
And while no date was set, a government official in China recently announced the country’s intention to ban the sale of cars using fossil fuels. That would prove significant, considering that China surpasses the U.S. as the auto industry’s largest market in the world.
In the country’s battle against air pollution, six cities in China have put severe restrictions on drivers who want to buy cars with internal combustion engines.
Automakers are also accelerating their move into the electric vehicle (EV) market.
GM announced it will add two more all-electric cars to its fleet next year and at least 18 more by 2023. “General Motors believes the future is all-electric,” said Mark Reuss, the company’s head of product development earlier this month.
Three months ago Volvo executives vowed that by 2019 all its models will be either hybrids or powered solely by batteries.
“This is the way the industry is going,” Ting said. “I think California needs to continue to lead and frankly, at this point, keep up with the rest of the world.”
Ting emphasized that the bill calls for banning the sale of new vehicles with internal combustion engines and would not outlaw the possession of cars and pick-ups already on the road.
“No one’s going to come for your cars,” Ting said. But at the same time, Ting said a bill like his is necessary.
“There’s so much pollution that has become catastrophic, not just in California but really worldwide, that governments need to say, this is something that is not sustainable,” he said.
That raises the hackles of Kerry Jackson, a fellow at the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute, a free-market think tank based in San Francisco.
“I don’t see this as a legitimate function of government,” Jackson said. “Dictating what kind of cars people must drive is a bit autocratic.”
Jackson said Ting’s bill, should it become law, raises many more questions than it answers, such as:
• In 2040, would internal combustion engine cars driven by out-of-state tourists be stopped at California’s border and turned back?
• Would the bill also apply to big-rig commercial trucks that use diesel fuel?
• What about drivers who live in rural areas who need gasoline-powered vehicles to travel long distances?
• And what happens to the $52 billion in revenue California officials expect to collect over the next decade from tax hikes on gasoline and diesel that are earmarked for road repairs if fossil fuel vehicles are banned?
Brian Maas, president of the California New Car Dealers Association, has his own questions.
“We’ll obviously have to wait for the specifics of Mr. Ting’s proposal but our concern is setting a mandate 22 years in the future,” Maas said, “There were effectively no cell phones 22 years ago and we’re all walking around with one in our pocket today. So imagining what the future is like 22 years from now is a difficult prospect.”
Another concern? Getting sufficient infrastructure in place.
About 2 million new cars are sold each year in the Golden State but only about 5 percent meet the state government’s definition of a zero-emission vehicle.
Gov. Jerry Brown has set a goal of 1.5 million clean-energy vehicles on California’s roads by 2025. A little more than 334,000 have been sold in the state thus far.
Passing Ting’s bill would result not only a surge in EV sales but require a dramatic increase in the number of EV charging stations.
There are just under 14,000 charging stations in California and just under 45,000 stations in the entire country, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
“If consumers tell us that they want to buy EVs, then our dealers will sell ‘em EVs,” Maas said. “The question is mandating 100 percent of all cars being sold as EVs. It seems like a very ambitious goal. It’s another thing to say it’s a mandate. Goals are great. Mandates are something else altogether because there’s no way out of it, that’s the law.”
In his five years in the statehouse, Ting has developed a reputation as a big booster of clean energy.
Earlier this year, Ting introduced legislation to spend $3 billion over 12 years for rebates for motorists buying zero-emissions vehicles. The bill failed to cross the finish line amid questions about its fiscal implications but the legislation will be taken back up in the upcoming session.
Ting insisted his internal combustion ban would not run into similar financial questions.
“With this bill, there are in my opinion, no fiscal implications — period,” Ting said. He pointed to Assembly Bill 32, the 2006 law that established greenhouse gas emissions targets for California.
“When AB 32 was passed, people thought there’s no way we’re going to hit these goals,” Ting said. “And we hit those goals going away. It wasn’t even close … When you set ambitious goals, California businesses and California people respond.”
Jackson is much more skeptical.
“I don’t think they’ve thought this out,” Jackson said. “The economy when left to itself sends price signals. But government doesn’t always have that kind of information and can’t make good decisions. Yet it wants to make these top-down decisions. And quite often they don’t work. There are unintended consequences.”