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Maine board votes down clean car program

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The Maine Board of Environmental Protection has voted down the adoption of the Advanced Clean Car II (ACCII) Program.

The proposed regulation would’ve required an increasing percentage of new light-duty vehicle sales to be of zero emission vehicles (ZEV) each year, starting with 51% in model year 2028 up to 82% in model year 2032. The rule wouldn’t have affected existing cars in the state.

The ACCII program originated in California and has been adopted by more than a dozen states including New YorkVermont, and Massachusetts.

The program includes revised pollutant standards for passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty vehicles with internal combustion engines. Implementation would transition from gasoline and diesel combustion engine vehicles to ZEVs, according to a fact sheet about the program.

CBS 13 News and other media outlets have reported the board was conflicted on the subject up until the vote.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), which brought a petition to the board to adopt the ACCII program, said in a news release after the vote that this is the first time since 2001 that the board hasn’t adopted stricter tailpipe or fuel efficiency standards.

“Clean air advocates, scientists, local business owners, and climate leaders across the state have called on the Maine BEP for more than two years to pass stronger tailpipe pollution standards to improve air quality, expand consumer choice, and increase accessibility of zero emission vehicles in Maine,” NRCM wrote. “It is estimated that if the rule were passed it would generate $16.9 billion in benefits to Mainers.”

Josh Caldwell, NRCM climate and clean energy outreach coordinator, said the vote “sets the stage for Mainers to spend more on gas, face fewer choices as they look for new cars, and experience more asthma attacks and hospital visits because of dirty air.”

“Zero-emission cars and trucks are a proven technology that present a perfect opportunity to improve the health of Maine people, save them money, and help us avert the worst impacts of climate change,” he said in a prepared statement. “We can choose this brighter path forward for Maine despite today’s setback by working together on clean air solutions.”

NRCM contends that climate action in Maine is urgent. “In the past year, Mainers have faced increasingly severe, climate-driven storms and floods. In December, the severe storm delayed the ACCII vote and now life-saving climate action is being blocked by the BEP. Without the ACCII Maine will not meet its mandatory climate targets of reducing emissions 45% by 2030.”

During its March 20 board meeting, member Steven Pelletier said, “This is probably the biggest bite of an apple we can take in terms of addressing climate change issues in the state.”

Maine Department of Environmental Protection Air Quality Director Jeff Crawford added, “There are enough megawatts out there on the grid that certainly satisfy charging needs for electric vehicles.”

The Maine Morning Star reports that Rep. Michael Soboleski (R-Phillips) brought forward LD 2261 to require approval of ACCII by the legislature and any new rules adopted by the DEP regarding motor vehicle emission standards. Soboleski said he plans to move forward with his bill to ensure the regulations go before the legislature if they come back up in the future, according to the Maine Morning Star.

During the public comment period, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (Auto Innovators) voiced a neutral stance on Maine’s ACCII, noting its positives and negatives.

“We appreciate the comprehensive approach that Maine has taken towards an electrified future and the progress made from your Maine Won’t Wait plan. Through the electric vehicle (EV) rebate incentives, infrastructure planning and a focus on improving consumer awareness, you have been able to realize a market share growth in EV sales that reached nearly 6% through the first quarter of 2023.

“These plans have set the framework to support increased electrified vehicle transportation in Maine. Our association supports this transformation and are committed to working cooperatively with Maine to ensure vehicles developed, produced, and sold in the state of Maine offer consumers a range of options that are increasingly efficient, clean, and affordable for all.”

However, Auto Innovators cautioned that Maine would have to address several hurdles for consumer acceptance including boosting EV sales by more than seven-fold in four model years.

The comments from Auto Innovators were submitted when Maine DEP was considering the adoption of the exact California Air Resources Board (CARB) ACCII mandate of 43% in 2027 to 82% EV market share by 2032.

SEMA called the rejection of the proposal good news.

“SEMA believes that Mainers, not the government, should decide what vehicles are best for them and their families,” SEMA said in a news release. “And, in the case of Maine, it rebukes the push by 150 citizens who attempted to determine policy for the rest of the state. The automotive industry is embracing new technology to make cars cleaner and more efficient, including hydrogen, new synthetic fuels, alternative fuels, and improvements to the internal combustion engine. The government should allow the market to continue to innovate all forms of technology that significantly reduce vehicle emissions.”

In opposition, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) said the proposal has “serious legal and analytical infirmities.” The proposal also “stifles innovation and reduces competition by ignoring the fundamental importance of liquid fuels in delivering affordable and reliable energy while reducing emissions,” AFPM wrote.

“DEP has not considered the broader geopolitical context against which it acts: the United States depends, and will necessarily continue to depend, on China and other foreign countries, for these minerals and metals (particularly copper) to produce batteries and expand the electrical grid. Adopting policies like ACCII only increases that dependence. A transition to so-called Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) exposes Maine residents to supply chain vulnerabilities largely beyond the control of regulators. This risk is exacerbated by long supply chains and a reliance on geopolitical rivals who control those supply chains.”

On the same day as the rescheduled Maine BEP meeting on March 20, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its new pollution standards for passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty vehicles for model years 2027-2032.

Compared to the existing MY 2026 standards, the final MY 2032 standards represent a nearly 50% reduction in projected fleet average greenhouse gas emission levels for light-duty vehicles and a 44% reduction for medium-duty vehicles, EPA said. The standards are expected to reduce emissions of health-harming fine particulate matter from gasoline-powered vehicles by over 95%.

In February, the Biden Administration relaxed its timeline for a push on EV production from 60% of new vehicle production by 2030 out to 2032 and added plug-in hybrids into the required new vehicle mix.

The decision then led to Democrats and Republicans in Connecticut sounding concerns about their state’s efforts, according to CT Insider

Connecticut has followed California’s lead by requiring all automotive sales in the state to be electric or hybrid by 2035. Gov. Ned Lamont attempted to move the ball forward last year by adopting new rules mandating the transition, according to the article. Republicans, however, are proposing the state reject the EV timeline. 

On an episode of “Face the Fact with CT” in March, Sen. Jeff Gordon (R-Woodstock) provided an update on his party’s concerns for phasing out gas powered vehicles.

“…we need to make certain we’re answering real world concerns that people have. How are we going to get the electricity that we need? All the charging stations? Upgrading the electrical grid? And the big one, I hear from people, How are we going to pay for it all? So these are common sense, real world concerns we have,” Gordon said. “We need to address those. Let’s not rush into it.”


Featured image: ferrantraite/iStock

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