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State regulators are on the cusp of adopting a rule that would push Vermont’s market for new passenger cars to all-electric in a little more than a decade.
The rule, called Advanced Clean Cars II, is part of a set of regulations that are designed to lower emissions in cars and trucks. It “requires that all passenger car and light-duty truck vehicles delivered by manufacturers for sale in Vermont by 2035 meet the definition of zero-emission vehicle,” according to a document produced by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
The percentage of zero-emission vehicles that manufacturers must deliver to the state would gradually increase from 2026 until 2035.
Advanced Clean Cars regulates manufacturers, not people. Vermonters would still be able to purchase used gasoline-powered cars under the rule.
Another rule in the set, called Advanced Clean Trucks, applies to medium- and heavy-duty trucks, and does not phase out gasoline-powered vehicles entirely. Instead, it requires manufacturers that sell trucks to include an increasing percentage of zero-emission vehicles, depending on the vehicle’s weight class, by 2035.
“The clean truck standard recognizes that the technology isn’t there yet for heavier-duty applications the way it is for passenger vehicles, essentially,” said Julie Moore, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources. “And so while it works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it doesn’t have the same sort of endpoint.”
Cars, buses, trucks and other modes of transportation are responsible for 40% of Vermont’s climate emissions, making it the state’s most polluting sector.
Vermont’s Climate Council, established by the state’s 2020 Global Warming Solutions Act, called for a wide-scale adoption of electric vehicles in its first Climate Action Plan.
“The combination of our mostly rural nature, dispersed land use patterns and heavy reliance on fossil-fueled vehicles is a significant reason why Vermonters emit more greenhouse gases per capita than any other state in New England,” 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 wouldn’t accomplish all of the transportation sector’s emissions reductions, and members of the Vermont Climate Council are actively looking for ways to get the state the rest of the way there.
The measure has been channeled through the rulemaking process, where it needed approval from the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, rather than through lawmakers at the Statehouse. State lawmakers who serve on that committee approved the regulations last week.
While the federal Clean Air Act doesn’t allow states to establish vehicle emission standards, California received an exemption because of its existing programs and its air quality challenges. Vermont and other states can implement California’s regulations as long as the rules are identical and are implemented at the same time.
Now, Vermont needs to wait until California fully finalizes the rule, which Moore expects will happen by the end of this month. Then, the agency will submit the final rule to the Secretary of State’s Office.
Car dealerships in Vermont may need to make some big decisions in the years leading up to 2035, according to Matt Cota, a consultant who’s the government affairs director for the Vermont Vehicle and Automotive Distributors Association.
The association did not oppose the rules, but Cota said members are still concerned about how regulations will be implemented and how they will impact businesses.
Advanced Clean Cars II does not guarantee that Vermont’s dealerships, most of which are locally owned, will receive an allocation of electric vehicles, Cota said. As their franchises — Volkswagen and Ford, for example — adjust to the rules, dealerships may need to invest in things like training and costly charging equipment.
The rules say that 35% of the cars delivered to the state must be electric by 2026, but that “doesn’t mean that by 2026, for all four Ford dealerships in Vermont, 35% of the vehicles on the lot will be electric,” Cota said.
“That’s not going to be the case,” he said. “It’s going to be a situation where each individual dealer will have to make a determination whether or not to invest in the type of infrastructure they’ll need to take delivery of the cars.”
Though the rules wouldn’t directly regulate people buying cars, Vermonters would feel a big impact. Acknowledging that, state officials held a number of in-person and virtual public meetings to provide information and allow for feedback in the last several months.
Environmentalists have widely lauded the rules. Groups such as the Vermont Sierra Club, Conservation Law Foundation, Vermont Natural Resources Council, Vermont Public Interest Research Group and Vermont Conservation Voters support them.
“They’re going to reduce climate emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, and these rules are also going to help to reduce toxic air pollutants,” Chase Whiting, an attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, told VTDigger. “And so overall, this is just a really wonderful and amazing suite of rules that it’s going to make a really large dent in Vermont’s transportation emissions.”
Moore said she heard several categories of concerns during the public process. One was related to inequities that could surface when Vermonters with more financial resources purchase new electric vehicles — which can be expensive — leaving lower-income people with cars that pollute the air.
Another is the availability of charging stations. Some renters and people who live in multi-unit dwellings don’t have access to chargers, some commenters have said.
“My concern is, if we decide to be in the leadership role, that it’s not the poorest among us, our poorest neighbors, that are paying the most for our well-intentioned (initiatives),” one commenter, who identified himself as Brian on the virtual public hearing, told state officials.
Asked about the environmental justice implications of the rules, Whiting said Advanced Clean Cars has mechanisms to address the inequities already baked in.
Car manufacturers who make electric vehicles will be incentivized to make more affordable electric vehicles, he said, including by selling previously leased vehicles at lower prices. Vermont and the federal government also have some rebates and incentives that could help bring prices down.
Another common concern is the lithium ion batteries commonly used in electric vehicles. The batteries use rare minerals for which the mining process can pose environmental threats in other areas of the country and 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 looking into the environmental impacts that various products sold in Vermont have over their entire life cycle.
“I think that that’s really important information,” she said. “There’s no environmentally impact-free way to go about our lives. And so it’s trying to make sure, though, that we have good information that helps us understand the true cost of different types of technologies in terms of its environmental impact.”
Whiting underlined the urgency of the climate crisis when lauding the rule’s progression.
“We need to dramatically and drastically reduce climate pollution right now,” he said. “And so this decade that we’re in, right now, really is humanity’s final opportunity to avert the worst impacts of climate change. And Vermont needs to do its part by reducing its own climate emissions.”
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