New York will join the list of states signaling an end to new gas vehicle sales, as a bill banning their sale after 2035 has advanced through the legislature. It now heads to the governor’s desk where it is expected to be signed.
This bill makes New York State the second US state to pass a gas car ban legislatively, behind Washington which set a 2030 target. California and Massachusetts have also set 2035 targets for the end of gas car sales, though those states made their commitments through executive action by their respective governors, Newsom(D) and Baker(R).
The bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 110-40 with all Democrats and 3 Republicans voting in favor, and passed the Senate in a party-line 44-18 vote. Democrats have a greater than two-thirds majority in both houses in New York, so while this bill has not yet been signed by the governor, there is little chance that it won’t become law.
The bill never uses the language “electric,” or “gas,” rather “100% zero-emission.” While battery electric vehicles are the most popular kind of zero emission vehicle available, other zero emission transportation (fuel cells and the like) would still qualify under this bill.
Like other gas car bans, the bill seeks to ban the sale of new non-zero-emission passenger cars and trucks in the state of New York, starting in 2035. Thus, cars sold before then will still be allowed to operate after 2035. The bill further specifies that all medium- and heavy-duty vehicles must be zero emission by 2045, and that off-road vehicles should be zero-emission by 2035 “where feasible.”
The “where feasible” language applies to heavy duty and off-road vehicles, but not to passenger vehicles. This suggests that there may be carve-outs for some specific applications, but passenger vehicles will not receive any carve-outs.
The goal of the bill is “to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from the transportation sector.” New York state has previously set goals to reduce statewide emissions by 85% by 2050 and to reach net zero emissions in all sectors of the state’s economy, and this bill is intended to help achieve those goals.
In order to achieve the goals laid out in this bill, it directs state agencies to develop plans to support the deployment of zero-emission vehicles. Specific regulations and plans will be drawn up to support the transition to zero-emission vehicles, with focus on supporting affordable charging options, safe infrastructure for bicycle and pedestrian options, and infrastructure to support heavy duty zero emissions vehicles.
New York is already the lowest-emitting state per capita, and has a pretty clean electrical grid. While natural gas does make up the largest chunk – 37% – of their electricity generation, a majority of New York’s electricity is generated by zero-emissions sources like nuclear and hydroelectric power. In particular, upstate New York is largely fueled by hydroelectric power, much of that from Quebec, which is both zero-carbon and one of the cheapest forms of electricity generation. Downstate, one of the last Nuclear power plants in the state, Indian Point, is set to be turned off by the end of the month.
Because of this, an electric car fueled in New York is among the lowest-emission personal transportation options available in the US. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a lifetime analysis shows an average EV fueled on grid electricity in upstate New York emits the same amount of CO2 as a theoretical 231mpg gas car, which makes it about ten times cleaner than the average new gas car. By 2035, as New York continues to decarbonize its electrical grid and more car owners get solar roofs, this number will surely improve even more.
That clean electrical grid also means that transportation makes up a disproportionately higher percentage of New York’s emissions. Transportation is the largest source of US greenhouse gas emissions, around 28% of total emissions. But in New York, that number is even higher at 36%, with 20% of total emissions coming from personal transportation. That’s a big chunk, so cleaning up transportation, and fueling it with clean electricity, is certainly a great way for New York to make a big dent in their overall emissions.
When California announced the first gas car ban in the nation, we asked: “why not sooner?” The New York bill was first introduced just two days after California’s effort. And again, in New York’s case, we must ask the same question. Why not sooner?
Both automakers and world governments seem to be coalescing around 2030-2035 for the elimination of new gas vehicles. Some European governments have set earlier targets, as early as 2025, and some have set later targets, but most of them are around 2030 (some have even pushed theirs forward). President Biden wants the US federal fleet to go all-electric as well.
As for automakers, Ford says they won’t sell gas cars in Europe starting in 2030, Mini will introduce their last new gas model in 2025, and Jaguar is going all-electric by 2025. Other companies have made similar announcements. Even stodgy old GM “aspires” to go all-electric by 2035 with Cadillac promising no more non EV vehicle introductions.
Given all of these efforts and the rate of improvement of electric cars, it’s our opinion that a 2035 ban is mostly redundant. There aren’t likely to be many compelling new gas vehicles in 2035 anyway, nor consumers interested in buying old technology that promises to become increasingly difficult to own as gasoline demand drops, gas stations start going away, residual values on gas cars tank due to lack of demand, etc. Finding a new gas car in 2035 might be like finding a hot new flip phone in 2021, even without legislative bans.
So surely New York, a climate leader – with the lowest per capita emissions of any US state – could do a little better than 2035, right?
For his part, the bill’s primary sponsor, New York State Senator Pete Harckham, hopes that the switch to electric vehicles could happen even sooner than 2035, despite the bill’s later deadline.
This is fair point. Any deadline at all will mean that automakers and consumers will start thinking ahead about the end of gas vehicles. This will influence engineering teams to focus on technologies that will be lucrative further into the future, it will influence consumers to purchase vehicles which might have better residual values and don’t suffer from a complete crash in demand as everyone switches to electric cars, and so on. There will be those who don’t listen to those signals, but the majority will see the writing on the wall. It’s unlikely that gas car sales will continue to rise until 2035 and then suddenly be cut off by this legislation; rather we would expect that they will dwindle to a whimper even before the deadline comes in.
But the climate emergency is happening now, and no action is too big or too soon to confront it. The longer we wait to act, the more difficult and costly solutions will be. So we will always err towards the side of calling for earlier, stronger action on climate-related issues.
In the US, Washington state is still the standout here. They recently passed a ban on the sale or registration of new gas vehicles starting in model year 2030, five years ahead of any other state. Not only is this earlier, but seems more strict as it also looks like it will prevent the registration of vehicles purchased out of state, something which other bans have heretofore not done (though those stipulations could be added as specific regulations are drawn up). That bill also included an important consideration – a move to mileage-based fees for road funding, which will be a more equitable way to avoid dumb punitive EV fees that the fossil fuel lobby is pushing around the country and the world.
We’d like to see more states model their plans on Washington’s effort, and push up their deadlines from 2035 to 2030 or earlier. And we’d like to see these efforts happen across the nation, rather than just in the states that are already doing a good job. The four states which have announced gas car bans are already among the best states on climate issues (and deserve praise for it). This means they don’t have nearly as much room for growth as, for example, Wyoming or North Dakota – both of which emit ten times as much CO2 per capita as New York does. Let’s let the laggards take up the 2035 date, while the leaders aim for 2030 or earlier.
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