As the Environmental Protection Agency prepares to introduce the final form of its proposal to freeze US fuel economy standards sometime in the near future, California is giving more indications of how it intends to fight the regulatory rollback.

Late last week, California Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) co-introduced the Zero-Emission Vehicles Act of 2019 in the House and Senate, respectively. The proposed bill would require 50% of new passenger vehicle sales in the US to be zero emission EVs, by 2030.

That percentage would increase 5% each year until 2040, when all new passenger cars sold in the US would be all-electric (or hydrogen fuel cell) vehicles.

As the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, “Levin admitted the bill is a long shot.” Any chance the bill has of passing both houses of Congress — unlikely considering Republican control of the Senate — would almost assuredly lead to a Trump veto. But as Levin said,

“My great hope is that we’re laying a foundation … that we have a road map.”

Levin said the bill is based around existing California policies, including the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) Advanced Clean Cars program adopted in 2012.

The bill is basically a reintroduction of the Zero Emission Vehicles Act of 2018, also co-introduced by Merkley, along with Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

Cutting CARB

Getting back to the California Air Resources Board — CARB chairman Mary Nichols threatened even tougher pollution rules late last week in direct response to the anticipated weakening of national fuel economy standards.

Nichols said California would be forced to pursue ‘extreme’ requirements to offset the related increase in pollution, as reported by Bloomberg. She said:

“If we lose the state vehicle standards, we have to fill up the gap with other measures. We will be faced with dramatic alternatives in terms of tighter, stricter controls on everything else, including movement of vehicles and potentially looking at things like fees and taxes and bans on certain types of vehicles and products.”

Drafted remarks — which Bloomberg notes were not delivered “exactly as prepared” — included a reference to “an outright ban on internal combustion engines.”
Trump’s EPA reportedly finalized “key details” of the fuel economy standards freeze in April, and automakers expressed concerns over a “split market” due to some states enforcing more stringent standards than others.

Electrek’s Take

California isn’t the only state in this fight, but it’s both the largest state in the country and seemingly the most willing to play hardball when it comes to fuel economy standards. (It’s also the biggest EV state in the country by far — nearly half of the country’s total EV sales have been in California, the Union-Tribune notes.)

While the Zero-Emission Vehicle Act may be a long shot at this point, to say nothing of an “outright ban” on ICE vehicles in the near future, the state doesn’t seem to have any intention of backing down from the current EPA.

If the EPA’s final proposal is adopted as expected, it wouldn’t surprise us to see California return with its own strong response, possibly in the form of even tighter in-state standards, which could in turn set a blueprint for the other states that have heretofore followed the Golden State’s lead.

The “split market” automakers are fearing could come to pass. As we’ve suggested before, now is the time for those companies to innovate and move forward with accelerated electric car plans — not to try to drag everyone back into the past and get left behind.

As a former EPA official said when those split market fears first surfaced: “Trump is right now, but California is forever.”

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.


Subscribe to Electrek on YouTube for exclusive videos and subscribe to the podcast.

About the Author