When a New York Times reporter called the Pacific Research Institute asking for a reaction to a story reporting that Gov. Jerry Brown is entertaining the idea of outlawing the sale of cars with internal combustion engines, the initial response was that it just can’t be true — not even in California. At least, not yet. Surely, someone had been duped by a story in The Onion.
But after a moment of reflection, the possibility doesn’t seem so unthinkable. This is California, it’s a Moonbeam moment and this is the direction the climate change activist community has been moving in for some time. And it’s moving fast. The Sacramento Bee reported that Assemblymember Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, “plans to introduce a bill that would ban the sale of new cars fueled by internal-combustion engines after 2040.”
Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board, told Bloomberg News that she had received messages from the governor asking why the state hadn’t already followed China’s lead in phasing out fossil-fuel vehicle sales.
“The governor has certainly indicated an interest in why China can do this and not California,” she said.
California is now taking its policy cues from China? So our own lawmakers now are looking for ideas from a nation that, while more open to markets than ever, is still ruled by central planners from a party that’s hostile to individual choice?
The climate crusaders will say it’s not just a Chinese idea — India and several European countries want to ban sales of new gasoline and diesel automobiles. This doesn’t make the use of authoritarian power to take away individual choice any more tolerable, though.
Should Gov. Brown, who leaves office in January 2019, eventually get his way and a ban is in place sometime in the next decade — a timetable cited by Nichols — policymakers will first have a backlog of troublesome questions to answer. For instance, will the prohibition be limited to new cars, as Ting is proposing? Or will used cars, even the classics cherished by so many Californians, become contraband as well? And what’s the plan to dispose of the millions of electric-car batteries that no longer hold a charge but are still toxic? Maybe policymakers need to go to China for this, too, since that country will be drowning in 300,000 tons of dead batteries in three years, according to Quartz media.
Other questions that will have to be answered include:
– Will travelers driving gasoline-powered cars be stopped at the border and denied entry?
– Will nonelectric cars owned by those moving into the state be seized?
– What of diesel trucks hauling freight bound for California retailers and industries? Will shipments be transferred into battery-powered trucks at a state-line facility so goods can continue into California?
– If allowed to enter, where will travelers, truckers and new residents fill their tanks in a state where liquid fuels are hard, if not impossible, to find?
– Will there be enough charging stations?
– How does the state plan to provide enough electricity to charge tens of millions of vehicles, especially while utilities are going through a state-forced transition to fully renewable sources?
– And what happens to the $52 billion in revenue the state is expecting from tax hikes on gasoline and diesel sales for road repair over the next decade as gasoline and diesel are being phased out?
Maybe the biggest difficulty will be moving everyone into electric vehicles. There are more than 30 million registered automobiles in the state, and only 284,000 are clean-energy vehicles, even though Sacramento has been trying to force Californians into them for years. The policy goal is 1.5 million on the roads by 2025, which, it must be pointed out, is more than half way to the 10-year objective mentioned by Nichols. But even if that near target is met, and there are legitimate doubts it will be, how will they get from 1.5 million to 30 million, or more, in less than five years?
Brown, Ting and others might believe they’re thinking big, but they are thinking impracticably. Worse, they’re thinking that their preferences should carry the weight of law.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.