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California's phasing out of gas-powered cars will require infrastructure changes

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

California is changing the game. The state is adopting what is believed to be the world's most ambitious plan to phase out gas-powered cars. By 2035, new cars sold in California must be powered by electricity or hydrogen. Margo Oge is a former director of the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Transportation and Air Quality, and she joins us from Los Angeles.

Thank you so much for being with us.

MARGO OGE: Thank you for having me, Rachel.

MARTIN: Describe, if you could, how meaningful this change is in terms of the fight against climate change.

OGE: It's extraordinary (ph) meaningful. You know, California has been known to be leading not just the U.S., but the whole world when it comes to environmental protection. But this is probably the most significant action the state has taken. And if I dare to say, it's probably the single most important action that the U.S. is taking to address climate change. California represents something like 10% of cars sold in the U.S. And 17 states, I believe, have indicated that they will adopt the California program. That will be 40% of new car sales in the U.S. And that is pretty huge because basically what's going to happen is this will drive electric car market. It will drive innovation. And it clearly will transform the car industry altogether.

MARTIN: It is bold, as you said. There is a chance that other states will follow suit. Is it actually achievable? Will the auto industry be able to keep pace?

OGE: If you asked me this question, you know, five, seven years ago, I would say that would have been very, very challenging to be accomplished. But today, you know, I believe that this is the first time that I have seen in the history of being a formal regulator, you know, over 30 years, that the industry, the car manufacturers and the state of California, the federal government, Europe are on the same page. General Motors, Ford, Volvo, Daimler - they're planning to stop selling new cars by 2035 that are fueled by gasoline and diesel. Some companies may complain. But overall, globally, there is over $500 billion that the industry is investing from now to 2026. So it's doable.

MARTIN: And some of that money has to go towards infrastructure, right?

OGE: Absolutely. And we have President Biden's infrastructure bill in place, new chargers across the country. The Inflation Reduction Act has a significant amount of money investments, anywhere from incentives for the consumer to buy electric cars to car manufacturers to invest in the U.S. launch and so forth.

MARTIN: New electric cars cost a lot of money, though. Are all the people who want and need a new car going to be able to afford them in California?

OGE: You know, the average gasoline car is about $47,000, and the average electric car is $60,000. But the cost of electric vehicles has been dropped significantly - over 90%, you know, the last 10 years. So, yes, on the average, electric cars are more expensive. But you can find low-cost electric cars. You have incentives that states have in place, like California, the federal government. And the costs are coming down significantly.

MARTIN: California's plan is going to need federal approval, right?

OGE: The next step is for the state of California to send this regulatory package to the Environmental Protection Agency for what is called a waiver to implement their own program. And based on what I know is in this program, there is no way that EPA is not going to approve this California clean car program, and then the other states can adopt it.

MARTIN: Margo Oge was director of the EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality under Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama.

Thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

OGE: Well, thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.