California Governor Directs State to Develop Near-Future Zero-Emission Vehicle Sales and Operation Mandates

On September 23, 2020 California Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-79-20, expressing the goals that:

  • by 2035, 100% of all in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks will be zero-emission vehicles (“ZEV”);
  • by 2045, 100% of all medium-and heavy-duty vehicles in the state be zero-emission for all operations where feasible (and the same goal for drayage trucks by 2035); and
  • by 2035, the State will transition to 100% zero-emission off-road vehicles and equipment (where feasible).

Governor Newsom directed the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) to propose regulations and strategies to achieve these goals. To develop the charging infrastructure necessary to support zero-emission vehicle deployment, the Governor has also directed CARB, the state Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission, and all other relevant agencies to use their existing authority to “accelerate deployment of affordable fueling and charging options for zero-emission vehicles, in ways that serve all communities, and in particular low-income and disadvantaged communities….”

To support California’s goal of achieving statewide carbon neutrality by no later than 2045, established by then-Governor Jerry Brown in EO B-55-18, Governor Newsom also directed the California Environmental Protection Agency and Natural Resources Agency to expedite regulatory processes to “repurpose and transition upstream and downstream oil production facilities,” the progress of which is to be recorded in an action plan due in July 2021.

While Governor Newsom’s executive order itself does not define “zero-emission vehicle,” recent CARB regulations establishing ZEV standards for 2018 and subsequent model year passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty trucks qualify them as “vehicles that produce zero exhaust emissions of any criteria pollutant (or precursor pollutant) or greenhouse gas, excluding emissions from air conditioning systems, under any possible operational models or conditions.”

In a September 28 letter to Governor Newsom, United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Administrator Andrew Wheeler questioned the viability of the executive order, describing it as “aspirational” and citing legal and practicability concerns. Referencing EPA’s 2019 withdrawal of California’s waiver of Clean Air Act preemption for the state’s greenhouse gas standards for light duty vehicles and zero-emission vehicle program, Administrator Wheeler’s letter notes that in order to formalize the EO’s goals, CARB may need to request waivers from EPA. Administrator Wheeler also questioned the feasibility of transitioning to a zero-emission vehicle fleet in the near-future given the state’s recent experience with meeting present-day electricity demand and rolling blackouts.

This post is as of the posting date stated above. Sidley Austin LLP assumes no duty to update this post or post about any subsequent developments having a bearing on this post.