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California will ban sales of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035

Traffic moves on Interstate 880 in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu
Traffic moves on Interstate 880 in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Updated August 25, 2022 at 4:58 PM ET

LOS ANGELES — California air regulators voted Thursday on a historic plan to address climate change and harmful pollution by moving the nation's largest auto market away from the internal combustion engine.

The regulation will phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs in the nation's most-populous state, culminating in a total ban of new sales of the vehicles by 2035. The ban will not prevent people from using gas-powered vehicles or apply to the used car market, but California officials say it will dramatically cut the state's climate-warming emissions and famously dirty air by speeding the transition to electric vehicles.

"California now has a groundbreaking, world-leading plan to achieve 100% zero-emission vehicle sales by 2035," said the state's governor, Gavin Newsom. "It's ambitious, it's innovative, it's the action we must take if we're serious about leaving the planet better off for future generations."

The regulation, which was approved by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in a Thursday vote, could have massive repercussions for the country's auto-manufacturing industry and the broader fight against climate change.

Transportation is the largest source of climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions in the country, and scientists have said in increasingly dire language that drastic cuts to those emissions are crucial to providing a livable future on the planet.

President Joe Biden has set a goal of making half of the nation's new sales zero-emission by 2030. The recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act aims to move consumers that way by providing tax credits to people looking to buy new or used electric vehicles, but there are so many caveats — on everything from the buyers' income level to which models can qualify — that many electric vehicles may not be eligible for the benefit.

Auto industry analysts say the unprecedented move by California could help push the auto market to achieving that goal. Thirteen other states, including Oregon, New York and Colorado, typically follow California's auto emissions standards, which are already the most stringent in the country. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday that his state will set a similar goal of banning new gas-powered car sales by 2035.

"I think, for automakers, they will probably look at this and think this is kind of what they're going to target for most of the country," said Jessica Caldwell, the executive director of insight at the car data company Edmunds.

Auto makers want uniformity, Caldwell said. They don't want to be selling one type of car in one state and others in another. But the transition to electric vehicles, which have been on the market for decades, has been slow.

Electric vehicles account for just 5.6 percent of new-car salesbetween April and July, according to the latest quarterly report from Cox Automotive, an industry consulting firm. That was a record pace, the report noted, spurred by high gas prices, but supply issues remain.

Reaching 100 percent emission-free new vehicle sales by 2035 will be "extremely challenging," said John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents large automakers.

"Whether or not these requirements are realistic or achievable is directly linked to external factors like inflation, charging and fuel infrastructure, supply chains, labor, critical mineral availability and pricing, and the ongoing semiconductor shortage," he said in a statement. "These are complex, intertwined and global issues well beyond the control of either CARB or the auto industry."

A nationwide shift to electric vehicles would have major health benefits beyond its impacts on global climate change. More than 4-in-10 Americans live with unhealthy air, according to the American Lung Association. And research finds that the negative effects are disproportionately borne by people of color, regardless of income.

A report by the American Lung Association earlier this year found that a nationwide shift to zero-emission vehicles by 2035, as California is seeking, would generate more than $1.2 trillion in public health benefits between 2020 and 2050 and avoid up to 110,000 premature deaths.

Arezou Rezvani contributed reporting from Los Angeles.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.