Gov. Jay Inslee said Wednesday that Washington would follow California’s lead and ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
The specific regulations for Washington will be sharpened in the coming weeks and months and the public will have the opportunity to weigh in. But the move toward zero-emission vehicles represents a significant and aggressive step toward cutting greenhouse gases in the state — a step that one Washington Republican criticized as overly proscriptive.
“This is a critical milestone in our climate fight,” Inslee said in a tweet.
Washington lawmakers already set a goal of phasing out sales of new internal combustion-powered cars by 2030 during the 2022 legislative session. But that was a goal, with no sticks attached.
By contrast, California’s standards represent a total ban on nonelectric vehicles. In 2020, Washington lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5811, the Motor Vehicles Emissions Law, directing the state Department of Ecology to adopt California’s emissions standards as they’re rolled out, which cleared the path for Inslee’s Wednesday commitment. The rule applies to passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles, such as SUVs and vans. Washington has already committed to a 35% reduction of vehicle emissions by 2026 and 68% by 2030.
The California Air Resources Board voted Thursday to approve the 100% reduction, setting into motion Washington’s shift toward zero-emission vehicles.
If an automaker decides not to comply, “They’re not going to do business in Washington anymore,” said Matthew Metz, founder and co-executive director of Coltura, a nonprofit that advocates for cleaner transportation infrastructure. “So this is a pretty heavy stick.”
Gas-powered cars will not be banned outright in Washington; sales of used vehicles with internal combustion engines will continue.
Emission standards are generally regulated at the federal level. But California was granted its first waiver in the late 1960s to set its own standards, a response to poor air quality. Other states subsequently got the green light to opt into California’s standards over the federal government’s and more than a dozen have done so.
California’s waiver has been a political football: former President Donald Trump halted it during his presidency and President Joe Biden reinstated it under his. Attorneys general from 17 Republican-led states have sued to revoke the waiver.
But car manufacturers, loath to pivot back and forth with each new president, have increasingly made their own commitments to phasing out the internal combustion engine. General Motors also set a 2035 deadline for ceasing production of gas-powered cars. Ford says it will invest $50 billion in electric vehicles by 2026.
Anna Lising, senior climate adviser to Inslee, said Washington still intends to meet its 2030 goal.
“We think of the California regulation as the floor and we’ve set a new ceiling of trying to get that done by 2030,” she said Thursday.
Getting to that point will take significant effort, in both the private and public sectors. Electric vehicles are in huge demand and supply still trails. The cars that are available tend to be expensive. Meanwhile, the availability and speed of charging stations is still a point of stress — often referred to as “range anxiety.”
“It’ll be a really major step forward and we’re going to have to really start to hustle,” said Metz. Metz pushed the state to adopt its 2030 goal, but acknowledged that the task ahead is significant. “There’s a lot of work to be done to get ready.”
Some of that work has begun. A state council, set up by Inslee to plan for the future of electric vehicles in the state, held its first meeting in July, where members discussed building a network of fast-charging stations on the state’s highways, said Lising. The effort will be aided by $71 million from the federal government.
The state Legislature did not pass a $7,500 rebate for new electric cars sought by Inslee, but it did budget $69 million to set up “community charging” stations for people who don’t live in a single-family home.
Lising said she expects the new regulations, which could affect a third of Americans depending on which states decide to adopt California’s rules, will incentivize manufacturers to bring more and cheaper electric vehicles online.
Rep. Andy Barkis, R-Olympia, ranking member of the Washington House Transportation Committee, said he felt the push to ban internal combustion engines would hurt both manufacturers and consumers.
“I believe the market is best to continue to determine how we transition,” he said. “It may seem like a long way out, but as we all know that’s a blip in the grand scheme of things.”
Last month, close to 20% of new vehicle registrations in Washington were either electric or hybrid; 8% were full electric, double the number in July 2020, according to data from the Department of Licensing. In total, there are 104,000 electric vehicles — either fully battery electric or a plug-in hybrid electric — registered in the state, about 2.5 times the total from two years ago. There are around 4.7 million passenger class vehicles in the whole state, according to DOL.
California’s standards do not affect all vehicles; truck-makers have an additional 10 years to phase out the internal combustion engine.
Transportation-related emissions account for more than 40% of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions. Metz estimates 25% of all emissions come from personal vehicles, of the type these new regulations affect. If all of those went electric, that would represent a 3 billion-gallon-a-year reduction in oil use in the state.
Metz said he was confident the state would get there.
“Bill Gates has said people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what can be done in 10 years,” he said. “It is ambitious, but you know, we can do a lot over a longer period of time.”