In 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an executive order requiring sales of all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035. Is this goal attainable?
Watch the video player above for a deep dive into what the Golden State must do to cross the finish line on the road to zero.
In California, we're known for our beaches, landmarks and wine.
But, we are also known for our traffic.
Federal numbers put California second only to Texas when it comes to transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions.
'The future is zero-emission'
In September 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an executive order requiring sales of all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035 to combat the state's transportation pollution.
"The future is clear. The future is zero-emission," said Patty Monahan, a commissioner for the California Energy Commission.
Is this goal attainable? Can California get across the finish line?
Currently, the Golden State is the leader in the zero-emission transportation industry.
State data shows electric and plug-in hybrid car sales have grown exponentially over the last decade.
In 2011, less than 7,000 zero-emission cars were sold in California and by 2021 there were 250,000 sold. That's about 70% higher than the average over the last three years and triple the number from 2017.
California is also leading the nation in this space. Zero-emission cars in California now make up nearly 40% of all zero-emission cars bought in the country despite making up just about 10% of all cars in the country.
The most popular brand was Telsa, which made up more than half of all the zero-emission car sales in 2021.
Those who've driven these cars can vouch for them.
"They're so fun. They're so zippy," said Reedley resident Marleen Alvarez.
Robert Dobbins from Orange County agreed.
"The car handles great, performs really well," he said.
Monahan, from the California Energy Commission, said having a clean energy technology that's superior to the gas-powered equivalent is "lucky."
"You have that with a battery electric vehicle, that zero to 30 acceleration, low end torque it is just hands-down better than having an internal combustion engine. So, they're fun to drive," Monahan said.
More than just fun to drive
The American Lung Association estimates that a transition to zero-emission transportation and clean electricity in California could save $169 billion in public health benefits, avoid 440,000 asthma attacks and save more than 15,000 lives.
But environmentalists are concerned about trade-offs like mining for the materials needed for the car batteries.
"In order to have electric vehicles, we need new metals that we have never needed at scale before, metals like lithium and cobalt," said Jennifer Krill, executive director of environmental nonprofit Earthworks.
How to dispose of old batteries is also a concern.
"Aged batteries or damaged batteries, lithium-ion batteries that we use in electric vehicles are a fire hazard," said Alissa Kendall, professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering at UC Davis. "And so, it's important to make sure that these batteries are managed correctly at the end of life."
A long way to go
Electric and hybrid car sales made up an all-time high 12% of all car sales in California last year. But experts say there's still a long way to go.
"We're at this critical time where both the introduction of new electric vehicles themselves, as well as the electric vehicle charging infrastructure are growing. And they both really need to grow together in order to get consumers truly on board," said Ed Kim, the President of AutoPacific, an automotive market research firm.
Both the state and federal government are investing billions of dollars to accelerate the implementation of charging stations.
California also has incentive programs to help offset the cost of the vehicles themselves, which can be more expensive than traditional gas-powered cars.
Despite promising signs, some significant challenges still lie in the way of California achieving its ambitious goals.
In this ABC Owned Television Station collaboration, we took a deep dive into at what the Golden State must do to cross the finish line on the road to zero.
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