In summary

The climate crisis provides ample reason for the California Air Resources Board to strengthen measures to slash greenhouse gas pollution.

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By Scott Hochberg, Special to CalMatters

Scott Hochberg is an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute,

Extreme heat continues to ravage California, after an initial Western heat wave so intense it buckled roads and melted infrastructure. But the state is about to blow one of the biggest chances it has to fight the climate crisis: a new rule to slash auto pollution.

That’s because California’s current proposal for its Advanced Clean Cars II program falls short of the rapid, bold action needed to confront a world in which Canada is suddenly hotter than Las Vegas.  

The rule would slowly ramp up sales of zero-emission vehicles — but not starting until model year 2027. And it would do little to address greenhouse gas pollution from gas-powered cars that could be on the road for decades.

A weak California auto emissions rule is particularly detrimental given the huge influence the state has on the entire country’s car pollution standards.

For 50 years, California was the only state empowered to set tighter emissions standards than the federal government. It used this power to push for faster emissions reductions from automakers, safeguarding public health and the environment.

Although President Trump rescinded the state’s authority, President Biden is in the process of restoring it, and now that California is getting its power back, it can’t squander it on half-measures. It needs to use its authority to implement — quickly — strong controls on the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

June’s record-shattering heat wave is just the latest sign of our disastrous climate trajectory. In May, scientists recorded the highest level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in human history. Total annual emissions are expected to rise at their second-fastest pace ever this year due to the pandemic rebound. Not coincidentally, California’s fire season has begun against the backdrop of a historic megadrought.

At this crucial moment, the ball is squarely in the court of the California Air Resources Board, which sets emissions rules for the state’s vehicles.

The board’s mission should be simple: Phase out sales of new gas-burning cars and light trucks, with an end date of  2030 at the latest. That’s vital, because many new cars stay on the road for 20 years or longer.

For the millions of new gas-powered cars that will be produced through 2030, CARB also should require automakers to make improvements that reduce emissions 7% annually. That’s slightly stronger than President Obama’s rules, which automakers agreed to a decade ago, and it will help make up for time lost under the Trump rollback.

Finally, the air board should implement its new standard as quickly as possible. Given the scale and pace of the climate crisis, any delay in implementing strong new rules is like pouring gasoline on a raging fire.

Automakers have the technology to comply with these requirements and move us closer to an all-electric fleet of cars, SUVs and pickup trucks. They’re already making splashy headlines and TV ads promising electric advances.

But we’ve learned from recent history that automakers don’t innovate on their own. Indeed, most have consistently fought regulations tooth and nail. California fought for the authority to protect its people — now it needs to use it to ramp up clean-car standards fast. Failure on this ensures yet more misery for our state in the unfolding climate catastrophe. Email the air board at and tell the board there’s no time to waste.

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