Washington Wants to Become First State to Ban Gasoline Powered Cars

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Washington has elected to become the first slice of America to ban the internal combustion motor, and we don’t just mean new sales. The Pacific state passed a bill on Thursday that would make the registration of gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles from the 2030 model year onwards illegal — leaving residents with the option to purchase a new electric vehicle, buy a secondhand gas burner, or throw up their hands and move elsewhere.

It’s an interesting concept, especially considering there’s very little evidence to suggest the industry will be at a point where total EV adoption will be remotely plausible by 2030. Even California, which is famous for its heavy-handed environmental regulations didn’t think it could start mandating the death of the internal combustion engine until at least 2035. Though Washington is reportedly not making this a concrete rule and it hinges on the adoption of another bill that would tax vehicles based on the number of miles driven. Think of it like a fuel tax that follows you around, even if you’re not using any. 

Since Washington doesn’t want to find itself missing any revenue, the bill’s text (HB 1287) explains that the vehicle ban isn’t supposed to take off until at least three-quarters of the state’s registered vehicles are subject to the proposed road usage charges. Reuters also noted that Democratic Governor Jay Inslee also has also yet to sign the bill into law. But he has previously expressed support to his party for putting the plan forward.

Not everyone has been as enthusiastic, however. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he was having serious doubts about the viability of the plan way back in January. The rules are also likely to encourage courtrooms dramas where people will accuse the state of exceeded its authority under the federal Clean Air Act. California is technically the only state granted special exemptions from the rule. But it encountered a multi-year fight for having pressed for rules many argued would have forcibly influenced the rest of the United States. Washington’s rule will undoubtedly come under the same scrutiny with fewer legal protections at its disposal.

The bills’ original language is also a little vague. Neither said anything about lower emissions and instead focus on building up the Washington economy by swapping the populace to EVs that will use locally sourced electricity. It also talks quite a bit about jobs, specifically from the construction of battery hubs designed to help support the grid and the addition of charging points that will feed the potentially mandatory EVs. But it does mention how the regulatory changes might help mitigate water pollution. Our guess is so that it can stay away from using any language that might allow opponents to easily rope in the Clean Air Act during legal challenges.

HB 1204 and SB 5256 are still in committee while HB 1287 applies to all privately and publicly owned light-duty vehicles with a weight of under 10,000 pounds, though motorcycles will be left alone. Your author frequently comes out against vehicle bans and this one is no different. But it should be said that Washington is at least in a position that gives the suggested rules some amount of creditability. The majority of the state’s electricity currently comes from hydroelectric power and it has a good mix of renewables and nuclear. If you’re going to force EVs down the public gullet, that’s the kind of energy breakdown you’d want. However, the situation could easily change as more electric vehicles take the stage and we’ve seen countries like Germany and China falling back on dirtier sources of energy (often coal) to feed an overtaxed grid, sending their air quality in the wrong direction.

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