On Monday, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler called into question the legality of Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order issued last week that would make all passenger car sales be zero emission in California by 2035.
In a letter to Governor Newsom, Wheeler questioned how California could reliably generate enough electricity for millions of more vehicles when the state experiences rolling blackouts regularly, such as the large scale blackouts California has experienced this year due to wildfires and higher than normal temperatures.
“California’s record of rolling blackouts — unprecedented in size and scope — coupled with recent requests to neighboring states for power begs the question of how you expect to run an electric car fleet that will come with significant increases in electricity demand, when you can’t even keep the lights on today,” said Wheeler on Monday.
“The truth it that if the state were driving 100 percent electric vehicles today, the state would be dealing with even worse power shortages than the ones that have already caused a series of otherwise preventable environmental and public health consequences.”
Wheeler also noted that Governor Newsom’s action was also likely illegal, as a mandate such as Newsom’s would need an EPA waiver to implement.
“While the executive order seems to be mostly aspirational and on its own would accomplish very little, any attempt by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to implement sections of it may require California to request a waiver to U.S. EPA,” added Wheeler. “This proposal raises significant questions of legality.”
Newsom’s office responded on Monday, defending the Governor’s order by noting how the state needed to fight climate change and protect people’s health.
“While the Trump Administration tries to drive this country off a climate cliff, California is once again assuming the mantle of leadership in the fight against climate change,” said Jesse Melgar, a spokesman for the Governor. “We aren’t going to back down from protecting our kids’ health and the air they breathe.”
The executive order is only the latest instance of strife between the EPA and California in the last few years. Last year, California sued the EPA after revoking California’s vehicle emissions standards, wanting them to fall in line with less restrictive federal standards. Several lawsuits were also filed in 2020, including a July suit in which California joined 19 others states to sue the EPA over clean water act changes.
“California and other states are thinking more environmentally, and are pushing more and more stringent measures such as banning gas-powered car sales or trying to ban fracking,” explained Oregon-based environmental lawyer Michelle Eckles. “The government and other states are thinking more economically, thinking jobs, and believe it or not, thinking about electrical power.”
“The legality of this, to put it in layman’s terms is a gray area. It all depends on interpretation and it depends on future politicians revoking it. The waiver is on the books. It says it’s needed in situations like this. This will be interesting going on.”
Further action by the EPA against Newsom’s order is expected in the coming weeks.
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