Other States May Follow California’s Lead in Banning Gas-Powered Cars by 2035

Washington, Massachusetts, Virginia and others appear likely to adopt the Golden State’s ambitious plan for phasing out internal combustion engines

Cars on the road
Under the federal Clean Air Act, other states may follow California's lead in banning gas-powered vehicles by 2035. Pexels

California made history last week by becoming the first state to ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) approved an ambitious phase-out plan that will require all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in the Golden State to be electric vehicles (EV) or other zero-emissions models by the middle of the next decade.

California is a trend-setter: Now, other states are likely to follow in its footsteps. In the days since California regulators signed off on the plan, which aims to curb emissions in a bid to halt human-caused climate change, officials in states like Washington, Massachusetts and Virginia have discussed their intentions to implement similar initiatives.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still needs to sign off on California’s plan, but it’s likely to do so, report Coral Davenport, Lisa Friedman and Brad Plumer for the New York Times. The new regulations wouldn’t affect any cars that are already owned, nor would they apply to used car sales.

The federal Clean Air Act allows California to set more stringent emissions standards than those implemented by the federal government. Under the law, other states get to choose between rules set by California or those set federally. All told, some 16 states have historically opted to adopt California’s standards and, if all of them follow suit, a gas-powered car ban would apply to roughly a third of the United States’ auto market, per the New York Times.

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Washington, Massachusetts and Virginia are just some of the states that are also discussing similar bans. Pexels

Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted that his state is “ready to adopt California’s regs by the end of this year.” In 2020, legislators passed a law directing the state's department of ecology to adopt California’s emissions standards as they evolve.

Members of the public will be able to weigh in on Washington’s to-be-determined regulations, reports the Seattle Times’ David Kroman. The state has also committed to reducing vehicle emissions by 68 percent by 2030, and public officials say they still hope to achieve that goal.

“We think of the California regulation as the floor, and we’ve set a new ceiling of trying to get that done by 2030,” Anna Lising, senior climate adviser to Washington’s governor, tells the Seattle Times.

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, a climate bill signed into law earlier this month also included a trigger provision that directs the state to follow California’s lead in phasing out gas-powered cars, reports the Boston Globe’s Hiawatha Bray. Now that California officials have approved a plan, Massachusetts regulators can get to work on a similar ban there.

The same is true for Virginia, which also passed a 2021 law aligning its vehicle emissions standards with California, reports the Virginia Mercury’s Sarah Vogelsong.

Officials in New York, Rhode Island and Oregon tell CNN’s Ella Nilsen that they plan to enact a similar ban, while Maryland and New Jersey officials say they’re considering it.

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Automakers say California's phase-out plan will be difficult to accomplish. Pexels

California’s rules come on the heels of the new federal Inflation Reduction Act, which includes record amounts of funding for measures aimed at halting climate change. Under that law, individuals may be eligible for tax credits up to $4,000 when they buy a used electric vehicle, or up to $7,500 for buying a new one.

Now, EVs account for roughly 5.6 percent of new vehicle sales across the U.S., though that number is much higher—more than 16 percent—in California, which is the largest auto market in the country.

Automakers are generally supportive of the idea of getting more EVs on the road, but they’ve expressed skepticism that California—and, potentially, other states—would actually be able to carry out the ban over such a short period of time. For starters, they say there aren’t enough EV charging stations to accommodate such a surge in demand. And, they say, it will be challenging to get enough raw materials to make batteries for so many electric vehicles.

“These are complex, intertwined and global issues well beyond the control of either [California regulators] or the auto industry,” says John Bozzella, president of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, to the Wall Street Journal’s Mike Colias and Christine Mai-Duc.