Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Maine Doesn’t Agree With California’s Gas-Only Car Ban

Gov. Janet Mills and other clean-car advocates argue that obstacles, like cost and availability, can prevent widespread adoption of zero-emission vehicles and the state’s transition must not leave out rural and low-income residents.

(TNS) — Gov. Janet Mills says she doesn't support a California-style mandate to phase out all new gasoline-only vehicles by 2035, and some clean-car advocates in Maine said Monday, Aug. 29, that they agree with her point of view.

Advocates say larger obstacles exist to widespread adoption of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles — notably cost and availability — and that Maine's small market share would have little influence on those barriers, regardless of what California does.

They also acknowledge that calling for any mandate can be risky in an election year and that there's little upside for Mills, who is running for re-election, to effectively tell Mainers what cars they can or can't drive.

"At this point in Maine, a mandate probably doesn't make much sense," said Anna Wright, the legislative and political strategist at Sierra Club Maine.

Wright said Maine is making good progress in the shift to zero-emission vehicles through existing state programs and the pending wave of federal money for rebates and charging stations tied to the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act. But the shift also must involve what she called "a just transition" that doesn't leave out rural and low-income Mainers, and includes expanded public transit.

"I think Maine is on the right path for our population at the moment," she said.

The reaction comes after California regulators voted Thursday on aggressive plans to phase out and ultimately ban the sale of cars that run entirely on gasoline in favor of those powered by electricity and, to a lesser degree, hydrogen.

California is the country's largest car market and has long driven change in the industry. Seventeen states — including Maine in 2005 — have adopted California's stricter tailpipe emission standards for new cars and light trucks. They account for roughly a third of all cars sold.

These regulations were first enacted to cut down on air pollution, but they're now seen as essential to reducing the emissions linked to climate change because the transportation sector is responsible for half of all greenhouse gas emissions.

California's new rule doesn't totally eliminate gas-powered vehicles. It phases in the share of new, zero-emission vehicles with target dates over the next 13 years. One-fifth of new sales also can be plug-in hybrids, which are powered by batteries and gasoline. And people can continue to drive and buy used gasoline models after 2035.

Following the announcement last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom, news reports have speculated on which states might follow California's lead. Massachusetts and Washington State seem to be at the head of the line because both states have trigger laws linked to enactment in California.

Late last week, Mills was asked by Maine Public if she would endorse a mandate here. She said no. Mills' office later issued a clarification statement that reads, in part: "The Mills administration is committed to a responsible, thoughtful approach to electric vehicles that will help Maine consumers and businesses save money, while reducing carbon emissions and protecting our economy and environment from the climate crisis. Maine's approach will not blindly follow the lead of any other state, but, instead, will put the interests of our state and people first to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, half of which in Maine come from transportation."

A leading electric vehicle advocate said Monday that Mills' statement left him conflicted. Barry Woods, director of electric vehicle innovation at ReVision Energy in Portland, noted the irony in the title of the state's 2020 climate action plan, "Maine Won't Wait."

" Maine won't wait," Woods said. "I'm a little disappointed that apparently Maine will wait."

Having said that, Woods noted that the Mills administration has been very engaged in promoting electric vehicles. The state now ranks ninth out of 25 in supporting EV drivers, according to a recent survey by Plug In America, a nonprofit advocacy group for electric vehicles.

Woods also emphasized what he considers the biggest obstacle today — the broken supply chain for EVs and plug-in hybrids. Manufacturers can't keep up with the demand for these cars, leading to waiting lists and charges well above the sticker price.

Obstacles to Adoption

Some of these obstacles were detailed in a report Mills ordered last year called the Maine Clean Transportation Roadmap, which also noted a large shortfall in public funding to meet EV goals in Maine.

"It's a frustrating moment for EV advocates, with gas prices still high and interest at an all-time high," Woods said. "This is the moment we've been waiting for, and there's no product."

That view was amplified by Adam Lee, board chairman of Lee Auto Malls and a strong promoter of electric vehicles.

"I agree with her," Lee said of Mills. "I don't think California is going to be able to do what it wants to do."

Carmakers worldwide already are scrambling to find the labor and raw materials to produce battery cars, and Lee doesn't see how California's targets will speed that process. He also noted the controversial domestic assembly and battery component requirements that must be met to qualify for EV tax rebates that will be funded through the new Inflation Reduction Act. Few automakers will be able to meet the benchmarks and the rebates are what make electric vehicles affordable for many buyers.

"Unless the price of the cars come down," Lee said, "I don't see how California can hit those targets. It's the same for Maine. We don't have $40,000 to $50,000 to spend on cars."

Mainers own or lease more than 6,800 electric cars — less than 1 percent of the vehicles on the state's roads — and the vast majority find the vehicles reliable, enjoyable and easy to maintain, according to an April survey by the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Ninety percent of electric vehicle owners charge them at home, the survey found. It also found 56 percent of the vehicles were plug-in hybrids, led by the Toyota Prius Prime. Forty-four percent of the vehicles were battery-only, led by the Nissan Leaf and followed by Tesla models Y and 3.

Election Year Considerations?

By sidestepping California's mandate, Mills, a Democrat, also short-circuited potential criticism on the issue from Republican opponents. In June, for instance, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D- Michigan, got pushback after remarking that she was unaffected by $5-a gallon gasoline prices as she drove from Michigan to Washington, D.C., in her new Chevrolet Bolt. One Republican congressman noted that the average price of an electric car was $60,000, although the Bolt costs half as much.

Closer to home, the Republican-leaning Maine Policy Institute and a coalition of organizations released a letter last March outlining how the then-anticipated California standard would negatively impact businesses and consumers in their states, if adopted. The group included the Maine Energy Marketers Association, which represents many convenience stores that sell gasoline.

But Jeff Marks, executive director of ClimateWork Maine, a business advocacy group on climate issues, said it's important to remember that cars and trucks remain the leading greenhouse gas emitters.

"I think she was a little too quick to say no, with transportation being such a major issue in Maine," Marks said.

Marks said he was expressing a climate perspective, rather than a political one, but it may be shortsighted to walk away from potential solutions.

"We shouldn't take it off the table so quickly, even in an election year," he said.

(c)2022 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
From Our Partners