Environmental equity expert weighs the strengths and weaknesses of Newsom’s executive order

Gov. Newsom’s order that all new vehicles be zero-emission by 2035 dovetails with sustainability efforts at USC.

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order on Sept. 23 requiring all new cars sold in the state to be zero-emission by the year 2035.

This announcement served as evidence of Newsom’s pledge to do more on the climate-front, as California is currently suffering from wildfires exacerbated by the harmful effects of climate change.

“Of all the simultaneous crises that we face as a state … none is more forceful than the issue of the climate crisis,” Newsom said at a news conference in Sacramento. “What we’re advancing here today is a strategy to address that crisis head-on, to be as bold as the problem is big.”

Newsom’s executive order would make California the first state to issue such a ban with the intent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a direct cause of global warming.

“Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse — and create more days filled with smoky air,” Newsom said. “Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”

The executive order can only achieve so much if not supported by legislation, according to Alvaro Sanchez, environmental equity director at The Greenlining Institute, an Oakland-based nonprofit. Sanchez spoke to Annenberg Radio News about Newsom’s order and what further steps need to be taken.

“We need additional pieces of legislation from our legislature so that the executive order doesn’t change just with a change in executive office,” Sanchez said. “If we’re going to get all vehicles in California to be electric by 2035, we need to ensure that all Californians, and particularly those that have the biggest barriers to gaining access to these technologies, for them to actually have an opportunity to benefit from the executive order and to alleviate any burdens that that executive order might generate for them.”

While many details about how the order will be implemented are still being worked out, Sanchez said gas vehicles will still be operational in 2035.

“It’s only a signal that starting in that year, all vehicles will have to be electric that are sold brand new,” Sanchez said. “All the other [gas vehicles], we’re still going to have to work with. So in some ways, it’s a transition. It’s not a stop and go.”

“What the governor did is a really good step,” said Sanchez. “It’s a meaningful step, but not nearly enough related to the problem that we’re facing.”

Though Newsom’s executive order is among the most significant actions taken by a state government to address climate change, the push towards electric vehicles and renewable energy is not new.

A similar goal is mentioned in USC’s 2028 Sustainability Plan, which “will include specific long-term sustainability goals, and provide a ‘greenprint’ for achieving them.”

USC Transportation, along with USC Sustainability, is working towards a fully electric fleet of trams and campus cruisers by the year 2028 — seven years before Newsom’s executive order would take effect.

In addition to electric campus vehicles, several other goals include increasing the electric vehicle charging infrastructure, creating an e-scooter/bicycle-share program, offering incentives to decrease single occupancy vehicles and increasing tram frequency.

The Environmental Student Assembly has made efforts to reduce carbon emissions directly on campus. Established in 2014, the assembly is striving to create a “green culture” both at USC and in the surrounding neighborhood.

One initiative outlined in the Environmental Student Assembly’s “Sustainability Goals by 2020” plan seeks to “reduce the number of single occupancy vehicles traveling to and from the USC campuses” and “increase student, faculty and staff participation in alternative transportation programs.”