What if California did away altogether with cars powered by fossil fuels?
Gov. Jerry Brown is said to have considered the question. According to a report in Bloomberg, he asked a state regulator about a plan by China to phase out sales of fossil-fuel vehicles.
“I’ve gotten messages from the governor asking, ‘Why haven’t we done something already?’” said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board. “The governor has certainly indicated an interest in why China can do this and not California.”
The remarks have thrilled environmentalists who see tailpipe pollution — accounting for about a third of total greenhouse gas emissions — as a bane to both air quality and the climate.
“It’s an important conversation to have and we’re glad it’s starting to get some traction,” said Gina Coplon-Newfield, who heads the Sierra Club’s clean transportation unit.
For now, conversation is all it appears to be.
A spokesman for the air resources board, Dave Clegern, declined to say whether officials were serious about a ban.
“Given the existential challenge we face,” he said in a statement, “the administration is looking at many, many possible measures.”
If California did pursue a ban, a number of questions would have to be worked out.
Would it roll out in phases? Would it apply also to hybrids that use both gas and electricity? And how would people afford the more costly cars?
Industry experts said any ban would require a broad expansion of charging stations, as well as upgrades to the electrical grid.
Such obstacles haven’t stopped other governments.
India, France, Britain and Norway have all moved toward phasing out diesel and gas fueled cars.
Kerry Jackson, a fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, a free-market think tank in San Francisco, said Ms. Nichols’s comments were more evidence a state held captive to overzealous environmentalists.
“The reaction is like, ‘Gee, somebody has been reading The Onion and they got taken in by the parody,” he said. “But then it fades a little bit and you go, ‘Yeah, this is California.’”
There’s also another matter: Consumers haven’t exactly embraced electric vehicles.
While Californians have been the nation’s leading adopters, electric vehicle sales in the state amount to less than five percent of the total.
“I think really the lag here is consumers,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst at Edmunds. “For the automakers, they have to balance the lawmakers’ desires versus what they can actually sell.”