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After Connecticut’s EV Bill Failed, Gov. Lamont Looks for Other Ways

On Monday, Nov. 27, the governor’s office conceded that it lacked the votes to push ahead its “Clean Cars” regulations. Now the governor must find another way to achieve his goal of phasing out new gas-powered cars by 2035.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont will lean on Democratic majorities in the state legislature to save his administration's goal of phasing out sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035, after an initial regulatory push fell apart this week in the face of bipartisan opposition.

The governor's office conceded on Monday that it lacked the votes to move ahead with its plan of adopting California's latest "Clean Cars" regulations through the legislature's Regulations Review Committee, after at least one Democrat balked at the cost and proposed timeline for the transition to electric vehicles.

The unusual structure of that committee — it is made up of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats — meant that Lamont could not afford to lose support from any of his party compatriots after Republicans promised to vote in block against the proposed regulations.

Instead, the governor pulled the regulations from the committee's agenda on Tuesday and announced that his next step would be to ask lawmakers to pass their own bill adopting the California standards.

"I think 2035 is working," Lamont told a reporter at an unrelated event Tuesday morning. "We've tripled the number of EV sales ... we as a nation have brought down the price by over a third in the last couple of years. Let's keep going."

Neither Lamont nor Democratic leaders in the legislature revealed details of their plan on Tuesday, or even a timeline for when they hoped to pass a bill.

House Speaker Matt Ritter, D- Hartford, said that his caucus would meet next week to discuss their options, which he revealed could include a special session sometime ahead of the next regular session in February.

By taking the legislative route, Ritter said lawmakers would have the flexibility to come up with potential solutions to the problems that fueled criticism of the push to phase out gas cars, including the steep price tag of EVs and their potential to strain the electric grid.

"Affordability is real, technology is real," Ritter said. "These are real concerns that can't be just shooed away, they can't be wished away. They have to be worked on."

Advocates, meanwhile, fumed at the "setback" in adopting the latest California standards, which would have required car companies to steadily electrify their new car lineups between model years 2027 and 2035. Used cars would be exempted by the proposed ban, while larger trucks and buses would have been subject to a separate set of rules also requiring an increasing range of electric models after 2027.

"I think politics beat good, common-sense policy making," said Ruth Canovi, a lobbyist for the American Lung Association, noting that the pollution from gas-powered cars contributes heavily toward Connecticut's high asthma rates.

More than a dozen states have formally adopted the California standards, including New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey. Rhode Island is expected to follow suit by the end of this year, according to advocates.

Republicans, however, argued that Connecticut lags behind those states in building out charging infrastructure, strengthening the grid and ensuring that electric batteries are capable of performing tasks demanded by larger trucks and buses.

"There's no plan," said House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R- North Branford. "People want to have their gas-powered vehicles; they want to have choice."

Supporters of the regulations argue that many of the issues surrounding electric vehicles, such as price and range anxiety, will be solved by the market as more states — representing millions of potential car buyers — adopt regulations forcing automakers to go electric.

Under federal law, states may opt to follow either California's emissions standards or a weaker set of rules set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Connecticut has followed the California standards for cars and lighter trucks since 2004, under a law signed by former Republican Gov. John Rowland. Lawmakers voted to adopt the standards for medium and heavy-duty vehicles in 2022.

While state's have little-to-no flexibility to amend California rules, Ritter said lawmakers were taking a look at what options they have in creating "off-ramps" in the event the electric car market does not progress as expected over the next decade.

Both Colorado and New Mexico, for example, have agreed to stay with the California model through 2032, when the rules will require electric vehicles to make up 82 percent of new models. After that point, the states will have the option to reassess and keep the California rules or revert to the EPA standard.

"Connecticut, as 1 percent of America's population, will likely not dictate the market forces of electric vehicles," Ritter said. "That will be dictated by others, but our inaction will cause us to fall behind ... that is why the target is so important."

Both Ritter and his Senate counterpart, President Pro-Tempore Martin Looney, D- New Haven, also called on Connecticut to ramp up its investments in charging infrastructure and, potentially, cash incentives to lower the cost of purchasing an electric vehicle.

Meanwhile, opponents of the plan among the fossil fuel industry celebrated on Tuesday, while vowing to continue their advocacy against any effort to adopt the California regulations.

"This is too much too fast, and we are not ready for an EV-only future," the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association said in a statement Tuesday.

The timeline for when automakers are required to make new electric offerings available in Connecticut also depends on how swiftly lawmakers are able to act.

Because of federal requirements for a "lead time" to impose new standards, lawmakers have until Dec. 31 to adopt the regulations in order for them to go into effect with model-year 2027 vehicles, according to Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes.

In the more likely scenario that lawmakers wait until early next year to pass a bill, Dykes said that the rules would not go into effect until the rollout of model year 2028 vehicles.

(c)2023 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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