What Advanced Clean Cars II Means for Zero Emission Vehicles with Dr. Steve Cliff

Image: Hybrid vehicles use electric charging stations in downtown San Francisco. The Advanced Clean Car II rule sets increasing standards for the share of new vehicles sales that are zero emission. Image Credits: Image by Felix Kramer (CalCars)

Audio Editing by: Wangyuxuan Xu Blurb by: Amanda Neslund Script by: Marie Hogan

Advanced Clean Car II Rule

The Advanced Clean Car II proposal requires that all new passenger vehicles, trucks, and SUVs sold in California be zero emissions by 2035. The rule will begin with 2026 through 2035 vehicle models and will also require more aggressive tailpipe emission standards for gasoline vehicles. The proposal has two parts: first, it amends the low-emission vehicle regulation, which enact stricter standards on gasoline cars and trucks to reduce smog emissions. Second, the rule relies on advancing zero-emission technologies for hydrogen fuel cell electric, battery-electric, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Today, California has the largest zero-emission vehicle market in the country, and more than 16% of all new vehicles sold in the state are currently zero-emission or hybrid cars. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) estimates that by 2025 there will be 179 models of zero-emission and plug-in-hybrid cars.

CARB believes that  this proposal will reduce air pollutants, protect public health and fight climate change. CARB estimated the public health benefits of this regulation will be at least $12 billion by 2035, and will reduce premature death, hospitalizations, and lost work days from exposure to harmful air pollutants. CARB also anticipates that the rule will help meet  environmental justice goals by reducing impacts on  disadvantaged, poor, and marginalized communities which disproportionately bear the burden of exposure to some of the worst air and vehicular pollution in the state. A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that in California, African Americans and Latinos breathe in 40% more particulate matter from vehicular air pollution compared to white communities. The transportation sector is also responsible for 50% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions and 80% of the state’s smog-causing pollutants. By increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles and cleaning up conventional internal combustion vehicles, these regulations could help reduce the exposure and harm faced by these vulnerable communities. 

The proposal also includes vehicle assurance measures, including setting a minimum warranty, durability requirements, increasing serviceability, and facilitating battery charging. These assurance measures aim to broaden the electric vehicle market. The rule also seeks to broaden access to the zero-emission market by providing reduced-price vehicles for community mobility programs, supporting the production of affordable vehicles, and retaining used electric vehicles in California. In addition, CARB is providing $2.4 billion of incentives for consumers to switch to electric vehicles and other forms of clean transportation. These funds  will cover the costs of more charging infrastructure and increased public outreach. 

This proposal also faces criticism due to some of the innate challenges with electric vehicles. One concern is the driving range of electric vehicles as the average zero-emission car in California is only capable of traveling 150 miles without a recharge, which will create a demand for hundreds of new charging stations across the state, although range is expanding rapidly. Affordability and equitable access are also a critique as the average zero-emission vehicle costs $30,000 and the used electric vehicle market is limited. The increased demand on California’s electric grid is also a challenge as the state is already struggling to meet current electricity demands as it phases out gas-fired generators. Electric vehicles, and particularly the materials in their batteries, also pose many environmental and human rights concerns. Increased demand for electric vehicles has dramatically increased the mining of raw earth elements such as cobalt and lithium. Mining these elements can produce hazardous waste that can leach into the environment and lead to toxic exposure for nearby communities. Many of these minerals are also found in developing countries, where corruption and lack of environmental regulations continue to exacerbate the negative impacts of the mining needed to produce zero-emission vehicles.

Despite these challenges, California’s new proposal is setting the standard for national adoption of zero-emission vehicles. Seventeen states have adopted part or all of California’s low and zero-emission regulations. By setting the most stringent emission standards in the country, California regulations are forcing auto manufacturers to change their production to comply with California law. As auto manufacturers not only produce specific vehicles for California, they are greening the vehicle market across the country. As a result, CARB estimates that more than 35% of the nation’s new light-duty vehicles will meet California emission standards. 

Steve Cliff

Dr. Steve Cliff is the Executive Officer of the California Air and Resource Board (CARB). Cliff began his appointment in the Summer of 2022 and works with the board to enact programs to reduce air and climate pollution within the state. In his role, Cliff oversees over 1,800 employees and a budget of $2.7 billion. 

Before serving as Executive Officer Cliff worked as the 16th Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and was appointed by President Biden in January 2021. At NHTSA Cliff oversaw the nation’s vehicle safety agency, where he helped advance vehicle technologies and established fuel economy regulations. Dr. Cliff also has an extensive history working with CARB as he first joined as an Air Pollution Specialist in 2008, served as Deputy Executive Officer overseeing the board’s climate program, and was appointed by Governor Brown in 2016 as senior advisor to CARB’s Chair. Governor Brown also appointed Dr. Cliff as Assistant Director for Sustainability to the California Department of Transportation, where he served in this role from 2014 to 2016. 



Dr. Steve Cliff: No one’s coming to take away your internal combustion engine vehicle in 2035. New vehicles will not be sold with internal combustion. But this isn’t somebody who’s coming after. your favorite five speed that you’ve been driving now for a decade. This is really about new car sales.

Ethan: I’m Ethan Elkind, and this is Climate Break. Dr. Steve Cliff is the Executive Officer of the California Air Resources Board. The agency made headlines earlier this fall when it announced its Advanced Clean Cars II rule, which requires all new cars sold in California to be zero emission by 2035. Cliff spoke to Climate Break about the market for zero emission vehicles and why the timing is right for this mandate.

Dr. Steve Cliff: If you look at what’s happened over the last year, the demand has outstripped supply. You talk to any manufacturer who makes his zero emission, and they’re saying we could sell more if we could make them more quickly. So the opportunities there are really vast. 

Ethan: Despite this growth in demand, Cliff says a government mandate is necessary in order to transition fully to zero emissions.

Dr. Steve Cliff: One of the key things I think for considering how we are ultimately going to be successful in getting to a fully zero mission transportation fleet is that investment by manufacturers in their manufacturing facilities. So you want to see this investment by manufacturers, and it helps them plan if they know that they have a mandate to sell their emission vehicles in a particular jurisdiction,

Ethan: To learn more about the California Air Resources Board’s approach to decarbonizing transportation and hear our full interview with Dr. Cliff, visit climatebreak.org.

What Advanced Clean Cars II Means for Zero Emission Vehicles with Dr. Steve Cliff