An immediate reaction to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order that all new cars sold in California by 2035 must be zero-emission is how can one individual in a state of 40 million tell us what we all can drive? Isn’t this a republican form of government in which the people speak through their representatives or speak for themselves with direct democracy? 

If Newsom wants to introduce the notion of electric or carbon free vehicles, he is free to do that.  The legislature then can debate and approve the plan. Californians may find the goal laudable.

But Newsom didn’t propose—he ordered–that California’s “goal” be that only zero emission free cars be sold by 2035 and left it in the hands of state bureaucratic agencies to develop the implementing strategies.  

Given the devasting fires that have ravaged California recently, which Newsom blames on climate change, this executive order smacks of a move to change the conversation away from the fires and how they were managed to what the governor says is a source of the fire problem. 

There has already been pushback against the governor from Republicans in particular over Newsom’s use of executive orders to deal with some of the crises California faces, especially because of Covid-19. While Newsom may have more leeway dealing with emergencies by executive orders, dictating a big, long term policy change to Californians in how they go about their living their lives should go through a more deliberative process. 

Of course, Newsom feels he is acknowledging time is needed to make the changes by setting the start date 15 years from now. One thing that will have to be figured out is where the power will come from to produce the electricity for fleets of electric vehicles. It is clear, as seen in the recent series of energy lapses, the state electric grid is not ready yet. 

Many of the old gas cars will disappear as well although the order allows them to exist after 2035 simply because the supply of gas to power the cars will be limited and costly because of less demand. 

Newsom will be out of the governor’s chair as 2035 approaches. A new governor may have something to say about how Californians choose to transport themselves. But by then the mechanisms established by the bureaucracy will be in place and hard to derail. That’s what happened with high-speed rail, a project that may have even less public support than Newsom’s zero-emission car proposal. That’s why using an executive order to direct policy is the wrong way to go. 

The question here is not the goal of the executive order. Gasoline automobiles are a big reason for the production of greenhouse gases in the state. Newsom’s proposed solution of eliminating gas powered cars is acceptable if the technology and energy sources are in place—and the people agree.

The question here is governance and the power to dictate change by fiat. Recommending change and pushing it through is a governor’s prerogative. Ordering us how we will live is not.