As the Trump EPA mulls whether to weaken U.S. fuel efficiency rules next decade, California has radically increased its commitment to zero emission vehicles (ZEVs).
Last Friday, Governor Jerry Brown announced he'd signed an executive order calling for an increase of ZEVs on California roads to 5 million by 2030, or a 15-fold increase from today's number. The news came after his state of the state speech the day prior had touched on some of its points. Brown's action now proposes to take the state well beyond Executive Order B-16-12 of 2012 which called for 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles to California by 2025.
"California is taking action to dramatically reduce carbon emissions from transportation - a sector that accounts for 50 percent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions and 80 percent of smog-forming pollutants," said the governor's office in a statement.
California already leads the nation with as much as 50 percent of all sales of plug-in electrified vehicles, and 100 percent of fuel cell vehicle sales. Brown's executive order thus stands to further accelerate the state which has authority to set its own clean air rules – and which are followed by as many as 12 other states.
Adding to prior initiatives, California – whose new car sales are 5 percent ZEVs compared to 1 percent nationwide - hopes vehicle sales will balloon to as many as 40 percent ZEV sales by 2030, Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols suggested.
Under California's definition, a ZEV includes cars, trucks, and buses that are all-electric like a Chevy Bolt EV, or Tesla Model S, as well as plug-in hybrids like the Ford Fusion Energi, or Chevy Volt, as well as fuel cell vehicles like the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Tucson.

Executive Order

Brown, now in his last year in office, was applauded by environmentalists for taking a stand by signing the executive order committing $2.5 billion through 2025 to increase charging station infrastructure.

To account for a massive expansion of ZEVs, today's approximately 14,000 standard charge points are to increase to 250,000. Charge points for DC fast charging - which itself is improving with increasing power - are to expand from approximately 1,500 today to 10,000 in 2025. Hydrogen stations are to increase from 31 today to 200 in the same period. Funding for state consumer rebates is to continue to encourage sales.

To pay for it, Brown's plan proposes cap-and-trade auction proceeds of $1.6 million to fund rebates offered in state over and above federal tax credits. A pre-existing $2 fee from state vehicle registrations would account for another $900 million of the $2.5 million total.

The state observed this latest initiative builds on legislation approved last year and in 2014 and 2013. California also adopted a 2016 Zero-Emission Vehicle Plan and the Advanced Clean Cars program . A protagonist in the space, it further plays host to a Zero-Emission Vehicle Summit , and has launched a multi-state ZEV Action Plan; co-founding the International ZEV Alliance .

Meanwhile, Back at the Whitehouse

Within days of President Trump's taking the Whitehouse last year, nearly all major automakers doing business in the U.S. petitioned him through respective lobbying arms to weaken emission and mpg regulations.

Through Trump's appointed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Scott Pruitt, programs including Corporate Average Fuel Economy Rules are being withered or cut. Now awaiting a final decision are potential erosion of fuel efficiency and emission rules for 2022-2025.

Those CAFE rules do not mandate ZEVs, but are believed to be a strong incentive toward them. California has always had a seat at CAFE talks, and it represents a significant bloc, as the 12 other states that have followed some or all of its rules represent over one-third of the U.S. market.

The current rules had been hastily settled by President Obama as he left office, then re-reviewed by the Trump EPA last year.

They'd been set in 2012 with approval by automakers, environmentalists, consumer advocates, California, federal representatives, and other stakeholders. They were written so as to create one national standard, but how things might dovetail is now in question.

"They don't directly dovetail," said Simon Mui, PhD, Natural Resources Defense Council senior scientist and director, California Vehicles and Fuels, of California's mandating 5 million ZEVs by 2030 and EPA CAFE rules. "Governor Brown's Executive Order is focused on increasing consumer access to electric vehicles and public charging infrastructure through state incentives. If anything it'll make it easier for automakers to meet CAFE rules by growing the market for the most fuel efficient vehicles - electric vehicles."

California's move thus represents a greater pulling away from Trump administration policy and shows implicit antipathy between California's goals and the federal government's that formerly were held in check by a "peace treaty," said Mui.

"Since 2009, state and federal clean car standards have been harmonized under a Peace Treaty between California, the automakers, and federal agencies," said Mui. "But if the Trump Administration takes the step off the cliff to go backwards, California and 12 other states representing over a third of the U.S. market will need to decide whether their jurisdictions will use their authority to maintain the current clean car standards, or whether they ultimately allow residents to face higher fuel bills and increased pollution."

Climate Change and Clean Air

California's rights to set its own rules date back to 1967 when then-Governor Ronald Reagan established the Air Resources Board. The state, which was characterized by large regions of smog, has taken a lead in pushing for clean air ever since, though not without critics.

Its rallying cry today goes beyond scrubbing the local air and has joined the global chorus on climate change – largely in sympathy with European nations, which include those calling for future bans of internal combustion engines.

President Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord on Climate Change, meanwhile has been quoted for years saying man-made climate change is a hoax.

"We should be focused on magnificently clean and healthy air and not distracted by the expensive hoax that is global warming!" [Said in 2013,

"I'm not a believer in man-made global warming. It could be warming, and it's going to start to cool at some point. And you know, in the early, in the 1920s, people talked about global cooling...They thought the Earth was cooling. Now, it's global warming...But the problem we have, and if you look at our energy costs, and all of the things that we're doing to solve a problem that I don't think in any major fashion exists." [Said in 2015, Source ]
Well, I think the climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money. I know much about climate change. I'd be-received environmental awards. And I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China. Obviously, I joke. But this is done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change. They burn everything you could burn; they couldn't care less. They have very-you know, their standards are nothing. But they-in the meantime, they can undercut us on price. So it's very hard on our business." [Said in 2016. Source ]
Governor Brown meanwhile has made climate change a focal point of his time in office. The state has seen devastating heat waves and wild fires becoming a regular occurrence, and observers see a tie-in to the fact that the 10 hottest years recorded since 1880 have occurred since 1998.

For these and other reasons, he has committed to other state legislation calling for increased renewable solar and wind energy and more, and is thus about as opposite from the president on the subject as can be.

Meanwhile, eyes will be on how things proceed following his executive order. Upon hearing of it, the Auto Alliance lobbying group was quoted at least praising California for anteing up consumer incentives for their prospective customers to buy their products. And, that California is planting infrastructure, with help also from the VW Dieselgate settlement, is also deemed helpful if it will be demanding automakers build and market ZEVs in state - and the other states following its rules.

Whether automakers continue a policy of building cars next decade just to comply with California or choosing to market them nationally is also an open question, said Mui, but NRDC – which has been very vocal fighting Trump's agenda – and others are preparing for the worst.

"It's anyone's guess, but if the Trump Administration moves to weaken the current harmonized standards, one thing is for sure," said Mui. "It'll mean years of litigation between states, the federal government, and probably automakers and other stakeholders to boot. The irony is that automakers will be needing to build fuel efficient vehicles anyhow for the rest of the world's major markets, all of which require similar types of standards to be met."

From the federal side, threats to California's long-held waiver permitting it to set its own rules have been uttered. A blog by NRDC's Irene Gutierrez and David Petit call such threats "baseless," but uncertainty remains.

Another issue is Brown leaves office next January, and if his successor so chose, his Executive Order could be reversed.

California clean air supporters have said they remain hopeful whoever comes in next will stay the course.

Executive Order