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Ban Fracking in Calif. Now—Not 2024, Say Climate Groups Following Newsom Order to Phase Out Gas-Powered Cars

"Setting a timeline to eliminate petroleum vehicles is a big step, but Newsom's announcement provided rhetoric rather than real action on the other critical half of the climate problem—California's dirty oil production."

Students and environmental activists participate in a climate strike in Los Angeles on May 24, 2019.

Students and environmental activists participate in a climate strike in Los Angeles on May 24, 2019. (Photo: Ronen Tivony / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom was accused Wednesday of providing "rhetoric rather than real action" to address the state's fossil fuel production in response to an executive order widely hailed for directing a phase-out of gas-powered cars by 2035.

"California is where the idea of cars as cool reached its zenith. So it's a big deal that they're going to stop selling the old kind," tweeted author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben.

A statement from the governor's office says the 2035 target for zero-emissions cars "would achieve more than a 35% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an 80 percent improvement in oxides of nitrogen emissions from cars statewide."

"This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change," said Newsom.

"For too many decades," he continued, "we have allowed cars to pollute the air that our children and families breathe. Californians shouldn't have to worry if our cars are giving our kids asthma. Our cars shouldn't make wildfires worse—and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn't melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines."

The new order (pdf) also calls for new zero emissions medium- and heavy-duty vehicles by 2045 "where feasible" and the advancement of "affordable fueling and charging options."

There are also directives for "state agencies to develop new health and safety regulations that protect workers and communities from the impacts of oil extraction" and "strategies for an integrated, statewide rail and transit network, and incorporate safe and accessible infrastructure into projects to support bicycle and pedestrian options."

It further asks the state legislature to stop issuing new fracking permits by 2024—a timeline that drew sharp criticism from climate advocacy groups.

The state's commitment on zero emissions vehicles drew praise from Greenpeace USA senior climate campaigner Caroline Henderson, but, she cautioned, the order "comes up short on the issue of fossil fuel extraction and does nothing to halt the significant increase in new oil and gas permitting that's occurred under his administration in the last six months." Greenpeace drew attention to the flurry of new drilling permits Newsom has given just this year. 

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"When it comes to protecting communities from oil and gas drilling," Henderson charged that the order amounts to "all words and no teeth."

"Rhetoric alone will not protect frontline communities from the harms of oil and gas extraction, nor will it address the climate emergency that's currently playing out in California," she said.

"It's not enough for Newsom to believe in climate science if he continues to exacerbate the problem by expanding the fossil fuel industry—especially when he has the ability right now to immediately halt new oil and gas permits," Henderson added. "If Governor Newsom truly wants to be a climate leader, he must put forth concrete policies and urgent timelines for implementation."

Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, similarly offered qualified praise for the new order.

"Setting a timeline to eliminate petroleum vehicles is a big step," she said, "but Newsom's announcement provided rhetoric rather than real action on the other critical half of the climate problem—California's dirty oil production."

"Newsom can't claim climate leadership while handing out permits to oil companies to drill and frack. He has the power to protect Californians from oil industry pollution, and he needs to use it, not pass the buck," said Siegel.

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