The Trump administration on Monday asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to back down from the executive order he announced last week that would phase out the sale of gas-powered passenger vehicles by 2035, arguing California’s power grid can’t handle a surge in demand from battery-powered vehicles.

The letter, written by Environmental Protection Agency Chief Andrew Wheeler, also warned that California is unlikely to receive permission from the Republican administration to proceed with Newsom’s plan.

“California’s record of rolling blackouts – unprecedented in size and scope – coupled with recent requests to neighboring states for power begs the question of how you expect to run an electric car fleet that will come with significant increases in electricity demand, when you can’t even keep the lights on today,” Wheeler wrote.

That’s a reference to the series of rolling blackouts last month when sweltering summer temperatures drove up demand for energy. California regulators delayed a plan to close down nine gas-powered electricity plants soon after the power outages, finding they were still needed to maintain grid reliability.

Newsom, in signing the order requiring 100% zero-emission vehicles within 15 years, cited a growing climate change emergency that includes deadly wildfires ravaging the state.

“For too many decades, we have allowed cars to pollute the air that our children and families breathe. You deserve to have a car that doesn’t give your 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,” Newsom said at the time.

Because of California’s historical air pollution problems, the federal Clean Air Act gives California the right to establish stricter guidelines than the federal government — so long as it gets a waiver from the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Trump’s administration has attempted to rescind that power, saying the state’s standards are too strict for manufacturers.

Wheeler, in his letter to Newsom, wrote that the executive order “raises serious questions regarding its legality and practicality.”

Gov. Newsom’s office said he won’t be deterred.

“While the Trump Administration tries to drive this country off a climate cliff, California is once again assuming the mantle of leadership in the fight against climate change. We aren’t going to back down from protecting our kids’ health and the air they breathe,” Newsom press secretary Jesse Melgar said in a statement.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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