Massachusetts plans to phase out sales of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035, speeding down the same road as California.
While many climate hawks have their eyes trained on the federal government, the proposal last week from Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) heralds significant climate action at the state level.
“I’m really excited to see Gov. Baker moving forward to address global warming pollution from cars and get more zero-emission vehicles on the road,” said Morgan Folger, director of the Zero Carbon Campaign at Environment America.
“Transportation is one of the largest sources of global warming pollution in Massachusetts, and, in particular, gas-powered cars are a big chunk,” Folger added. “So phasing out gas-powered cars in the state could make a big dent."
Baker issued the proposal as part of his interim Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030, which outlines how the state can reduce carbon emissions 45% below 1990 levels by 2030—an interim target on the path to net-zero emissions by 2050.
Transportation accounts for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts, according to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. Passenger cars alone are responsible for roughly 27% of all carbon pollution.
“There is no way we can achieve our net-zero 2050 target without urgent action in the transportation sector. And helping people get out of polluting vehicles and into clean vehicles is the fastest way to get there,” said Jordan Stutt, carbon programs director at the Acadia Center, a clean energy-focused nonprofit with offices in Boston.
Stutt said he thinks Massachusetts can reach 100% electric vehicle sales within 15 years if the state addresses two overarching challenges: a lack of point-of-sale incentives for EV drivers and a dearth of EV charging infrastructure.
Since 2014, the Massachusetts Offers Rebates for Electric Vehicles (MOR-EV) program has given drivers up to $1,500 toward the purchase of an EV that costs under $50,000.
But funding for the popular program dried up in June 2019, temporarily putting a damper on clean car sales statewide (Climatewire, June 27, 2019).
“The MOR-EV program has been a success, but there is a lot of room for improvement. First of all, it will need a dedicated funding source going forward," Stutt said.
“In terms of the rebates themselves, advocates have called on the administration to make rebates available at the point of sale, which is helpful for everybody, but particularly for low-income purchasers who can’t afford to wait months for a check in the mail,” he added.
In terms of EV charging infrastructure, Massachusetts currently has 957 public EV charging stations with 3,178 outlets, according to the Department of Energy.
While many people charge at home, some people can’t afford to install chargers in their garages or don’t live in single-family units.
Bob O’Koniewski, executive vice president and general counsel of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association, said EV charging stations need to become as common as gas stations for consumers to embrace zero-emission vehicles.
“You can go anywhere in the state, and every tenth of a mile, there’s a gas station,” he said. “You’re going to need a similar situation for ZEVs, I think, if you’re going to build consumer confidence in the vehicles.”
O’Koniewski also voiced concern that adding more EVs to the roads could cause a surge in electricity demand, leading to the rolling blackouts that plagued California last year.
“I don’t mean to take a shot at California, but part of the responsibility of running a state is making sure people have power," he said. “Think of the hospitals. Think of the schools.”
But overall, O’Koniewski said he supports the goal of ending gas car sales by 2035 because it recognizes an unavoidable future for the auto industry.
“It makes sense to begin the planning process for the inevitable,” he said. “And the inevitability is that we are going to run out of fossil fuels at some point, whether it’s petroleum or natural gas.”
In September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued an executive order calling for 100% zero-emission vehicle sales in the state by 2035. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) has expressed support for the same goal, although he has yet to sign such an order.
In the past, the oil and gas industry has lobbied against climate-friendly transportation policies at the state level, including a proposed clean fuel standard in Washington state last year (Climatewire, March 11, 2020).
Michael Giaimo, Northeast regional director for the American Petroleum Institute, said the powerful trade group has concerns about the gas car phaseout in Massachusetts.
“Good public policy allows the market and technology to respond to consumer needs,” Giaimo said in an emailed statement. “This proposal denies working families the choice to buy a car that fits their unique requirements and budget. Blanket bans undermine competitive markets and ignore continued advancements in fuel and vehicle technologies that have enabled cars today to be 99% cleaner than those that were made in 1970.”
But Chris Dempsey, director of the advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts, said he wasn’t aware of opposition from any other groups tied to the fossil fuel industry.
“I think there’s a broad recognition in Massachusetts that this is the direction in which we need to move,” Dempsey said.
“Depending on your frame of reference, 15 years is either a long time or a short time,” he added. “But I think it’s enough that people feel like this is not being sprung on them, and they have the ability to transition.”
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.