California Just Banned Gas Cars—Will Your State Ban Them Next?

The planet is in trouble, and a gas-car ban just might help. But how will it affect you?

Cars are not small investments. They make a big impact on our wallets—but also on the environment. That’s why when California announced a gas-car ban in August and other states suggested they’d follow suit, there was a mixed response. Sure, reducing our use of gas by opting for more eco-friendly cars could slow climate change and help everyone live more sustainably, not to mention save money on gas in the long run. But what would happen to people’s cars? Would they have to shell out a small fortune to buy an expensive new electric vehicle right now?

Well, let’s set a few things straight first: This isn’t a full-on ban. People residing in or visiting California will still be able to drive gas cars, as well as buy and register used internal combustion engines (ICE) vehicles, well after the law takes effect. But in a little over a decade, residents will not be allowed to register new gas-burning cars. The same thing may happen in 17 other states, two of which have trigger laws that will be activated when the California law goes into effect.

If you’re wondering when and where that would happen, as well as what it would mean for you, you’re not alone. We asked experts to give us the lowdown on this new law, from which states it would affect to how big of a difference it will make on the environment. Someday soon, perhaps climate anxiety and the stress of finding cheap gas near you will be distant memories.

Why is California banning gas cars?

It’s all about the environment. More than half of California’s carbon pollution comes from the transportation sector, and eliminating ICE vehicles is a critical first step in addressing the climate crisis. California has seen the impact of climate change firsthand in the form of natural disasters such as floods, mudslides, record-breaking droughts and extreme wildfires—all of which have increased in frequency and intensity in recent years.

How bad is California’s car problem? California ranks first in the number of registered vehicles, with a whopping 14.2 million. That’s almost twice as many as Texas (8 million) and Florida (7.8 million). And while California is also the most populous state, which sort of explains that high number, it also lacks public transportation, resulting in brutal traffic in urban areas and a reliance on personal vehicles. According to the California Energy Commission, “California’s transportation sector accounts for about 50% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, nearly 80% of nitrogen oxide pollution and 90% of diesel particulate matter pollution.”

After announcing the new law, California governor Gavin Newsom told ABC News, “There’s nothing else that will move the needle on greenhouse gases more than tailpipe emissions.” Indeed, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) estimates that the gas-car ban will lower greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks by 62% between 2026 and 2040, which is equivalent to 915 million barrels of oil. In addition, nitrogen oxide emissions are estimated to fall 70%, saving not only lives but also approximately $13 billion in health-related costs by 2040.

“Tailpipe pollution is linked to asthma, lung infections, heart attacks, stroke, premature death, low birth weight and cancer,” notes Molly Rauch, public health policy director at Moms Clean Air Force. “What California has done will help clean up the air for so many families who have to breathe this harmful pollution every day.”

When will California’s gas-car ban take effect?

It will take more than a decade for the ban to take effect fully—2035, to be exact—but the switch to zero-emission vehicles will happen incrementally. “As has been the case with California emissions regulations in the past, there is a phase-in period over a number of years to allow auto manufacturers to adapt,” says Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of Green Car Journal. “In this case, California is requiring that 35% of all new light-duty vehicles sold in the state be zero-emission by model year 2026. That number increases to 68% in 2030 and 100% in 2035. Importantly, plug-in hybrid vehicles—a much easier leap for most consumers—can represent 20% of these sales numbers.”

Which other states are banning gas cars?

Map infographic of states with gas-car bansRD.com, Getty Images

While California is the only state with the right to set its own emissions standards—due to the California Waiver, which was enacted in the early 1970s—17 states tend to follow California’s lead, opting for stricter emissions standards instead of less stringent federal ones. Those states, many of which include the more populated states in the Northeast, represent a third of all auto sales in the country. So, who’s on the list? New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia and Vermont.

Out of that bunch, Massachusetts and Washington have trigger laws in effect, meaning they will enact similar laws as soon as the California gas-car ban takes effect. And on Sept. 29, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced that New York is also working toward a 2035 gas-car ban. Her new mandate directs state regulators to take steps to ensure that only zero-emission vehicles will be sold in the state; it expedites legislation she signed last year to phase out new gas-powered cars and trucks. Other states are currently considering similar eco-friendly policies, including Vermont, which already implemented its own Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program.

Of course, there has been some pushback, with Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin tweeting: “I am already at work to prevent this ridiculous edict from being forced on Virginians.” The attorney generals of 17 other states, including Missouri, Texas and Indiana, have also filed a lawsuit with the Federal Court of Appeals to prevent the California gas-car ban, even though it wouldn’t apply to their states.

Will gas cars be illegal?

Despite the gas-car ban, gas cars won’t be illegal in California or any other states that follow suit. You just won’t be able to buy and register new ones. And you’ll see an increasing number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the market from some of the best car brands. Ford has called California’s new rule “a landmark standard that will define clean transportation.” You’ll also see innovative ideas to turn your gas guzzler into something more eco-friendly. A new company called Fuel2Electric, for example, will convert your classic vehicle into sustainable nostalgia.

And don’t worry—gas stations will be sticking around for the foreseeable future, though they’ll eventually be fewer and farther between. EV charging stations will be more commonplace, but current availability is still low, especially in rural areas. “The parking garage will be the future gas station,” predicts Andrew Sachs, president of Gateway Parking Services & Harbor Park Garage in Baltimore. “We started offering charging for four cars just six years ago as a trial. We now have 16 charging stations and more in the plans. Our monthly parkers are now insisting on it.”

Will all cars be electric someday?

The short answer is probably, but that will take a while, long past California’s 2035 gas-car ban. However, Hooman Shahidi, co-founder of electric vehicle charging company EVPassport, thinks it could happen by 2050. “Today, there are millions of registered zero-emission vehicles in the U.S., and millions more that are plug-in hybrid cars,” Shahidi says. “The objective of so many leaders, both in public and private sectors, is to decarbonize the mobility sector, but what’s intriguing is that consumers are asking for plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. In other words, consumer demand is increasing.”

Vehicle sales show that the number of zero-emission vehicles on the roadways has less to do with interest and more to do with supply. If more were readily available, people would buy them. “EVs account for roughly 5.6% of new vehicle sales across the U.S., though that number is much higher—more than 16%—in California, which is the largest auto market in the country,” explains Peter Hjorth, CEO of BlueLake Mineral, a global mining company working to fill the high demand for materials needed to produce lithium batteries for electric vehicles.

For the world to hit net zero, about 2 billion EVs need to be on the road by 2050. Hjorth points out Norway’s impressive lead in the zero-emission vehicle market. In 2019, EVs accounted for 42% of new car sales, but by 2021 that number rose to 64%. So far, in 2022, EV sales in Norway are up to 84%. How to make a break from fossil fuels is just one of the things we can learn from the world’s most sustainable countries.

Are there any downsides to electric cars?

New rules and laws can be intimidating, and implementing them can feel daunting at first. Although some of the issues with implementation of the gas-car ban are political, some are also practical. For example, EVs also don’t get as many miles per charge, making them tricky for long-distance trips and states with few charging stations. Related to that, and as noted earlier, the country needs a better national infrastructure of public charging stations. Interestingly, there’s also a potential sustainability issue. After all, notes Hjorth, manufacturing EVs or charging them with electricity produced by coal power plants would be problematic.

But, of course, the biggest roadblock to more people getting excited about electric vehicles is price. Consumers, who are already feeling the pinch of inflation and stagnant wages, are worried about how this could affect their bottom line. Cogan notes that EVs are currently more expensive than conventional vehicles due to their expensive batteries. That said, President Biden’s recently signed $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act—the largest piece of federal legislation to address climate change—includes funds to extend and expand the existing electric vehicle (EV) subsidy of up to $7,500. Plus, as technology improves and EVs become more commonplace, costs will go down.

Still, Rauch is hopeful. “As someone who is focused on the health benefits of reducing pollution, I see the benefits as vastly outweighing the challenges,” she says. “At the end of the day, who doesn’t want their children and grandchildren to breathe clean air?”

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Jaime Stathis
Jaime Alexis Stathis is a nonfiction writer who covers humans, wildlife, technology, social justice, and everything related to being a human being on a constantly evolving planet. Jaime is working on a novel about a heroine who saves herself and a memoir about caring for her grandmother through the dark stages of dementia.