PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Maine environmental regulators are set to decide next week whether the state should join others in adopting California-style regulations to drastically limit the sale of new gas-powered vehicles.
Supporters say the proposal before the Board of Environmental Protection on Dec. 21 simply accelerates the adoption of electric vehicles, which is already happening, and that delaying a decision would push back the standards by a year.
If approved, the standards would go into effect for 2027 vehicles and would eventually require 82% of new vehicles sold to be considered zero emissions by the 2032 model year, said Jeff Crawford, director of the Bureau of Air Quality for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
A dozen states already have signed onto California's standards for boosting electric vehicle sales and reducing traditional vehicle sales to meet climate goals.
Maine has a long history of going beyond federal baseline standards to adopt stronger standards, similar to those put forth in California, the nation's most populous state, said Jack Shapiro, from the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which marshaled the effort to put the proposal to a vote.
He described the proposal as a win for consumers and for the environment. "We care about the environment. We care about saving money. We care about efficiency. We care about pollution," Shapiro said.
But critics, including House Republican leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, say the plan isn't feasible because of the state's geography and infrastructure.
Most Mainers who spoke at a public hearing over the summer opposed the proposal and had a message for the board: "Don't turn Maine into California," Trey Stewart, Senate Republican leader, said in a statement.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the trade association representing car and truck manufacturers, said it's supportive of Maine's efforts and that it's committed to offering a range of offerings to meet demand in Maine.
But it also noted consumer acceptance is a hurdle if electric vehicle sales are to increase sevenfold to meet the target for new car sales in 2032, and that tens of thousands of additional charging ports are needed.
Supporters say drastic action is needed to combat climate change, and that the proposal still allows some gas-powered vehicles to be sold. Heavier duty trucks — such as delivery vans, garbage trucks, school buses and semi-tractors — that weigh 8,500 pounds (3,856 kilograms) or more could remain on the market.
The proposal followed an unorthodox path using a process by which any Maine resident can submit an agenda item with 150 signatures of registered voters. That process has been used only a handful of times over the years with the BEP, a citizen board appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate, Crawford said.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is taking no official stance, but Crawford said the board is taking the proposal seriously.
The "Advanced Clean Cars II" plan would require zero-emission vehicles to make up 43% of new car sales for 2027 models and 82 percent of new sales by model year 2032, Crawford said. Those include electric and fuel-cell vehicles, along with a partial credit for plug-in hybrids, he said.
Electric vehicles comprised 6% of new vehicle sales in the first quarter of the year, officials said.
The rules already have been adopted in Vermont, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, New York, Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico, Delaware, New Jersey and Virginia, in addition to California, Crawford said.
Most of those states adopted the full California standard that requires 100% zero-emission vehicles in 2035, but Maine's proposal stops short of that goal. Colorado and New Mexico adopted the same cutoff as Maine, he said.
The California rules were rebuked last month in Connecticut, where Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont withdrew proposed regulations mirroring California's clean vehicle standards. Lawmakers will seek a compromise when they return to work in the new year.