As we inch toward the end of 2020, September feels like centuries ago. We’ve been through an election. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic that’s rearing its ugly head. Things feel stagnant — but they’re not. Change is being made on state and local levels at a surprising rate. One of those changes came from California Governor Gavin Newsom, who signed an executive order to place a ban on gas cars by 2035.

It sounds extreme, but this move came during raging wildfires across the extent of America’s West coast. Of course, a headline only tells us so much, so what exactly does an executive order do, and can it really place a ban on gas cars in lieu of electric vehicles?

What is an executive order?

First and foremost, executive orders are not necessarily law. When a state governor issues an executive order, they’re basing that order on existing governor powers. This means the state legislature doesn’t need to vote or take any actions for the executive order to take effect.

Because of the nature of executive orders (largely that it’s a swift governor-led move that skips over the traditional legislation process), they tend to invite legal battles from folks who don’t agree with them. This will undoubtedly be the case with Newsom’s order placing a ban on gas cars.

In addition, executive orders only affect state agencies and government employees. In California’s case, this means organizations like the California Air Resources Board who must reach for the “goal” of eliminating new emission-creating passenger vehicles. There’s no description of a penalty for employees and agencies who don’t reach the 2035 ban on gas cars in California.

Governor Newsom’s move to place a ban on gas cars, explained

In a tweet, Newsom wrote “Big problems demand bold solutions. We’re in the midst of a climate crisis. We’re not waiting around for the federal government. So yes, by 2035 every new car sold in CA will be an emission free vehicle. It’s simple–cars shouldn’t give our kids asthma or make wildfires worse.”

Because of the complicated intricacies of executive orders, Newsom’s move is more impressive on paper than it is in actuality. However, that doesn’t mean it was just a press moment or that the decision was taken in vain. This executive order will have real effects. Here are some of them:

  • The executive order calls for zero-emission cars. That category encompasses more than just EVs. It also includes hydrogen fuel-cell cars, so there’s some variation.
  • The main factor that drives the EV industry’s growth is the nation’s charging blueprint. Range anxiety is a real issue when it comes to consumer decisions, and rightly so. Available charging will cause a boost in demand, and this executive order is likely to boost infrastructure. It could have a real domino effect, even over the next 30 years (as gas cars bought at the end of the goal period start to die out).
  • California is a startup haven, as evidenced by the state’s very own Silicon Valley. Companies looking to go all-in on the alternative energy vehicle market will start to pop up more and more. Faster chargers and portable chargers will likely become more commonplace.
  • People will still be able to keep their beloved gas cars. No one’s coming to take away anyone’s ride, and California residents will be able to drive their cars to 200k miles (or whatever mileage they manage to reach).

An executive order isn’t everything, but it’s a step in the right direction

Don’t expect Newsom’s ban on gas cars to change the world outright. Still, you can expect the world to respond, even if it’s step by step.

Rachel Curry
"Hey! My name's Rachel Curry and I'm a full-time writer who loves telling the world's stories as much as hanging with my dogs (and that's saying a lot). A University of Delaware graduate, I've traveled extensively, living everywhere from Ireland to Thailand. Bylines include Matador Network and Delaware Today."

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    1. A ban seems extreme, but I understand the reasons needed. I wonder what this will mean for those who love their classics that they keep and maintain.

    2. I don’t think this is the greatest idea. It will impact the environment greatly but there are a lot of families not able to afford them.

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