California Democrats urge Biden to tackle climate change by banning sale of gas-powered vehicles

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California’s two U.S. senators are urging President Biden to hasten the country’s transition away from fossil fuels by phasing out gas-powered vehicles. 

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla sent a letter to the White House on Monday requesting stronger federal action on climate change. The lawmakers, in particular, urged the administration to overturn guidelines on vehicle-emissions instituted by former President Donald Trump. 

“We urge your administration to restore pollution standards that actually protect public health and welfare, set fuel economy standards at the maximum level feasible, and advance national standards for zero-emission vehicles and equipment to ensure the United States remains a leader in clean technology, engineering, and manufacturing,” the senators wrote. 

The lawmakers argued that the “national baseline” on vehicle emissions should be “built around” efforts undertaken in California. 

“We also urge you to follow California’s lead and set a date by which all new cars and passenger trucks sold be zero-emission vehicles,” wrote the senators. 

During the Trump years, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration worked to overhaul vehicle emission standards. 

Initially, regulations implemented by the Obama administration in 2012 required automobile manufacturers to increase vehicle efficiency standards by 5% annually.

The aggressiveness of that goal was heavily criticized by the auto industry. Some vehicle manufacturers even argued that the technological capacity and cost for such a transition was heavily underestimated by federal regulators. 

As such, Mr. Trump’s EPA began revising federal guidelines on the topic starting in 2018. The administration eventually announced that it would require companies to only boost vehicle efficiency standards by 1.5 percent annually throughout 2026. At the same time, the Trump administration attempted to strip states of the ability to set their own independent vehicle-emission standards. 

Those decisions sparked immense criticism from Democrats. Nowhere was the outrage louder than in California. The state’s then-Democratic Attorney General Xavier Beccerra, now Mr. Biden’s health secretary, filed a lawsuit against Mr. Trump, alleging the new regulations posed a serious “public health hazard.” 

In September, California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom intensified the disagreement with an executive order mandating that by 2035 “all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California” had to be “zero-emission vehicles.”

Now, Sens. Feinstein and Padilla are pushing for Mr. Biden to do likewise. It is unclear, though, if the administration will follow suit. Requests for comment were not immediately returned by the White House

Mrs. Feinstein and Mr. Padilla’s letter comes as the Biden administration is working to boost the number of electric vehicles on the road. The White House is working with congressional Democrats to ensure that at least $40 billion is added to any upcoming infrastructure bill to install electric vehicle charging stations across much of the U.S. 

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