SACRAMENTO, Calif— Gov. Gavin Newsom announced steps today that California will take to accelerate climate action, but he failed to include ambitious actions to curb oil drilling and ban fracking. Today’s measures include an executive order directing the California Air Resources Board to require 100% zero-emissions vehicle sales for passenger cars, pickups and SUVs by 2035.
Despite intense pressure from Californians to act on the dirty oil and gas extraction in the state, Newsom offered only vague support for public health protection and pledged to work with the state legislature to ban fracking.
“Setting a timeline to eliminate petroleum vehicles is a big step, but Newsom’s announcement provided rhetoric rather than real action on the other critical half of the climate problem — California’s dirty oil production,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Newsom can’t claim climate leadership while handing out permits to oil companies to drill and frack. He has the power to protect Californians from oil industry pollution, and he needs to use it, not pass the buck.”
While electrification of the vehicle fleet is a crucial component of any climate plan, the deadlines in Newsom’s order fall short of what is needed and achievable. Because it will take 15 to 20 years for petroleum vehicles to phase out of the fleet, California must reach 100% zero-emissions vehicle sales by 2030 in order to achieve a zero-carbon fleet in 2045. As the governor has correctly said, “this is a climate damn emergency,” and 2045 is too late to achieve carbon neutrality.
The 2035 goal for achieving 100% zero-emissions passenger vehicle sales leaves California lagging behind many other countries. Norway will do so by 2025. Iceland, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK will do so by 2030. Newsom’s order also lacks details on urgently needed short-term action while the state develops new regulations.
In addition to requiring 100% zero-emissions car sales by 2030, Newsom and CARB should also require at least a 7% annual increase in efficiency each year for remaining internal combustion cars sold in the next decade, the Climate Law Institute says. Every year of delay cuts the chance of avoiding utter climate catastrophe.
The Executive Order also sets a target for all medium- and heavy-duty trucks operating in the state to be zero emission by 2045 “where feasible.” This needs to be strengthened. The diesel trucking fleet emits pollution that’s devastating to Californians’ health and to the climate. The health harms from vehicle pollution fall disproportionately on low-income Californians and communities of color, worsening environmental injustice in the state.
“It’s critically important to phase out petroleum cars in the next decade, and doing so sets the stage perfectly for a more thoughtful and ambitious approach to phasing out California’s dirty oil production,” said Siegel.
On oil production, while Newsom offered support for protecting public health from neighborhood oil drilling, he failed to order regulators to institute a health-and-safety buffer between oil and gas wells and communities, as recommended by the state’s own scientific panel in 2015.
“Environmental justice and public health advocates have worked for years to achieve this common-sense measure, which is supported by overwhelming scientific evidence,” said Siegel. “Newsom’s decision to offer vague rhetorical support for health protection instead of decisively implementing this crucial health buffer is deeply troubling.”
While Newsom also announced his support for a ban on fracking, he pledged only to work with the state legislature to end it, rather than taking any executive actions to protect Californians today. As leading legal experts have explained, Newsom has the power to ban fracking, but he has declined to use it. A ban on fracking and steam fracking is urgently needed to protect Californians from the toxic harms of California’s ongoing oil spills, and also as a key climate policy.
“Newsom is the one person with the power to protect Californians from the climate and health emergency created by the fossil fuel industry,” Siegel said. “Our state is on fire, and the governor is the most important person in America right now when it comes to climate policy. He needs to use all the tools in the box.”