Wheeler blasts Calif. ban on gas car sales

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, September 29, 2020

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler yesterday blasted California’s Democratic governor for seeking to ban sales of gas-powered cars to combat climate change.

In a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), Wheeler criticized the governor’s executive order requiring that 100% of new vehicles sold in the state be zero-emission by 2035 (E&E News PM, Sept. 23).

The order “raises serious questions regarding its legality and practicality,” Wheeler wrote, adding that the directive “seems to be mostly aspirational and on its own would accomplish very little.”

The letter comes after the Golden State experienced rolling blackouts last month when electricity demand surpassed supply during a heat wave. Wheeler argued that the order would put Californians in the dark again.

“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,” the EPA chief wrote.

Turning to legal questions, Wheeler asserted that the order would require California to request a waiver from EPA.

Under Section 209 of the Clean Air Act, California can obtain a waiver from EPA to set tougher greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars than those issued by the federal government.

But last fall, the Trump administration issued part one of the Safer Affordable Fuel Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule, which revoked the waiver that had been granted by the Obama administration.

The outcome of the legal battle ultimately hinges on the presidential election.

If Trump wins a second term, his administration likely would deny California’s request for another waiver.

If Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wins, his administration likely would move to restore the waiver and craft tougher emissions standards for cars and trucks.

Wheeler concluded his letter by urging Newsom to let the free market, rather than regulations, determine whether electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies succeed.

“I urge you to step away from commitments to singular technologies,” he wrote. “While it is tempting for federal or state agencies to regulate with a particular technology in mind, it is far more productive to provide innovators the freedom to develop the technologies of tomorrow.”

This is not the first time Wheeler has aired these criticisms. At the Concordia Summit last week, the EPA administrator suggested that Newsom’s order was intended to distract voters from wildfires raging across California.

“I think it’s more aspirational at this point, and probably more political, probably as a reaction to try to turn the attention away from their mismanagement of the forest fires in California,” Wheeler said last week (E&E News PM, Sept. 24).

A spokeswoman for Newsom didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.