Vermont officials are set to ban the sale of new gasoline passenger cars by 2035

An electric vehicle connected to a fast charger in Rutland in February. State regulators are poised to adopt a rule that would boost Vermont’s market from new passenger cars to all-electric in just over a decade. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

State regulators are poised to adopt a rule that would boost Vermont’s market from new passenger cars to all-electric in just over a decade.

The rule, called Advanced Clean Cars II, is part of a set of regulations designed to reduce emissions from cars and trucks. “Requires all passenger vehicles and light trucks delivered by manufacturers for sale in Vermont by 2035 to meet the definition of a zero emission vehicle,” according to a document produced by the Vermont Natural Resources Agency.

The percentage of zero-emission vehicles that manufacturers must deliver to the state would gradually increase from 2026 to 2035.

Advanced Clean Cars regulates manufacturers, not people. Under the rule, Vermonters would still be able to buy used cars that run on gasoline.

Another rule in the set, called Advanced Clean Trucks, applies to medium- and heavy-duty trucks, and doesn’t eliminate gas-powered vehicles entirely. Instead, it requires manufacturers that sell trucks to include an increasing percentage of zero-emission vehicles, based on vehicle weight class, by 2035.

“The clean truck standard recognizes that the technology doesn’t yet exist for heavier-duty applications like it is for passenger vehicles, essentially,” said Julie Moore, secretary of the Natural Resources Agency. “So while it works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it doesn’t have the same kind of end point.”

Cars, buses, trucks, and other modes of transportation are responsible for 40% of Vermont’s climate emissions, making it the most polluting sector in the state.

The Vermont Climate Council, established by the state’s 2020 Global Warming Solutions Act, called for large-scale adoption of electric vehicles in its first Climate Action Plan.

“The combination of our largely rural nature, scattered land use patterns, and heavy reliance on fossil fuel-powered vehicles is a major reason why Vermonters emit more greenhouse gases per capita than any other country in the world. another New England state,” the plan states.

The Global Warming Solutions Act requires Vermont to reduce emissions by 2025, 2030, and 2050. Advanced Clean Cars and Advanced Clean Trucks would not achieve all emissions reductions from the transportation sector, and members of the Vermont Climate Council they are actively looking for ways to get status the rest of the way there.

The measure was funneled through the rulemaking process, where it needed approval from the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, rather than through lawmakers in the House of Representatives. State lawmakers serving on that committee approved the regulations last week.

While the federal Clean Air Act does not allow states to set vehicle emission standards, California received an exemption due to its existing programs and air quality challenges. Vermont and other states may implement California regulations as long as the rules are identical and are implemented at the same time.

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Now, Vermont must wait until California fully finalizes the rule, which Moore expects to happen later this month. The agency will then submit the final rule to the Office of the Secretary of State.

A great impact

Car dealers in Vermont may need to make some big decisions in the years leading up to 2035, according to Matt Cota, consultant and director of government affairs for the Vermont Association of Automotive and Vehicle Dealers.

The association did not oppose the rules, but Cota said members are still concerned about how the regulations will be implemented and how they will affect businesses.

electric vehicle
An electric vehicle recharges on Main Street in Burlington in 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Advanced Clean Cars II does not guarantee that Vermont dealerships, most of which are locally owned, will receive an electric vehicle allowance, Cota said. As their franchises (Volkswagen and Ford, for example) adjust to the rules, dealerships may need to invest in things like training and expensive charging equipment.

The rules say that 35% of cars delivered to the state must be electric by 2026, but that “does not mean that by 2026, for the four Ford dealerships in Vermont, 35% of the vehicles on the lot will be electric,” Cota said.

“That is not going to be the case,” he said. “It’s going to be a situation where each individual dealer is going to have to determine whether or not to invest in the type of infrastructure that they will need to receive the cars.”

Although the rules would not directly regulate people who buy cars, Vermonters would feel a big impact. Recognizing that, state officials have held a series of in-person and virtual public meetings to provide information and allow for comment in recent months.

Environmentalists have widely praised the rules. Groups like the Vermont Sierra Club, the Conservation Law Foundation, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, and the Vermont Conservation Voters support them.

“They’re going to reduce climate emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, and these rules will also help reduce toxic air pollutants,” Chase Whiting, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, told VTDigger. “And overall, this is a really wonderful and amazing set of rules that will make a huge dent in Vermont’s transportation emissions.”

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Moore said he heard several categories of concerns during the public process. One related to the inequities that could arise when Vermonters with more financial resources buy new electric vehicles, which can be expensive, leaving low-income people with cars that pollute the air.

Another is the availability of charging stations. Some renters and people living in multi-unit housing don’t have access to chargers, some commentators have said.

“My concern is, if we decide to take the leadership role, that it won’t be the poorest among us, our poorest neighbors, who will pay the most for our well-intentioned (initiatives),” said one commenter, who gave his name as Brian. at the virtual public hearing, state officials said.

When asked about the environmental justice implications of the rules, Whiting said that Advanced Clean Cars has mechanisms in place to address already entrenched inequities.

Automakers that make EVs will be incentivized to make EVs more affordable, he said, including by selling previously leased vehicles at lower prices. Vermont and the federal government also have some discounts and incentives that could help bring prices down.

Another common concern is the lithium ion batteries that are commonly used in electric vehicles. The batteries use rare minerals for which the extraction process may pose environmental threats in other areas of the country and the world.

“We cannot support this massive increase in resource extraction,” Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said at the virtual hearing.

Moore said state officials are actively investigating the environmental impacts of various products sold in Vermont throughout their life cycles.

“I think that’s really important information,” he said. “There is no environmental impact free way to live our lives. However, he is trying to make sure that we have good data to help us understand the true cost of different types of technologies in terms of their environmental impact.”

Whiting underscored the urgency of the climate crisis by praising the rule’s progression.

“We need to dramatically, drastically reduce climate pollution right now,” he said. “So this decade that we find ourselves in, right now, is really humanity’s last chance to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. And Vermont needs to do its part by reducing its own climate emissions.”

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