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'It's almost a joke': In rural California, governor's gas-powered car ban is a stretch

By Ryan Sabalow and Phillip Reese, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - It's a long drive to just about anywhere Gary Wright needs to go. A rancher in the far northeastern corner of California, he sometimes has to drive nearly 100 miles, one-way, to get to where his cattle graze. It's 36 miles to Klamath Falls, Oregon, for a significant errand run.

There are only a few gas stations along the routes through the forests and high deserts in Modoc County - let alone electric vehicle charging stations. There are none near the rangeland where Wright's cattle graze.

So he was baffled when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that California would require all new passenger cars and trucks to be electric or "zero-emission" by 2035 to combat climate change.

Newsom's directive signaled the governor was moving more aggressively on climate change during one of the hottest years in California, and with wildfires consuming nearly 4 million acres - the most in modern history. But his order comes with significant challenges for rural California and the Central Valley, where many people drive all day for work, not just to commute, and traveling long distances is a necessity.

Electric vehicle companies say battery technology is improving, but as it stands, the best electric car batteries currently on the market have a range of no more than 250 miles. There are few options for electric pickups like the ones Wright would need to haul equipment and livestock trailers over long distances.

"It's not practical at all," Wright said. "It's almost a joke to me. I just can't fathom anybody thinking that's a reality."

 

Newsom's executive order expanded on a 2018 mandate by then-Gov. Jerry Brown calling for 5 million zero-emission cars by 2030. Brown also established a goal of 250,000 charging stations, including 10,000 direct-current fast chargers, and 200 hydrogen fueling facilities in the state by 2025.

"It shall be a goal of the State that 100% of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks will be zero-emission by 2035," Newsom's order reads. "It shall be a further goal of the State that 100% of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in the State be zero-emission by 2045 for all operations where feasible and by 2035 for drayage trucks. It shall be further a goal of the State to transition to 100% zero-emission off-road vehicles and equipment by 2035 where feasible."

"Drayage" trucks are on-road, diesel-fueled, heavy-duty trucks that typically haul freight short distances to and from ports and rail yards.

State officials and environmental groups say the 15-year runway in Newsom's executive order gives the state plenty of time to make it work for everyone. They say more options for pickups are coming on the market, battery technology is rapidly improving, and the vehicles are growing cheaper as demand increases. Power companies and electric car manufacturers also are already working aggressively to install charging stations across the state, even in its remote corners.

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