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Environmental groups in Maine push to regulate sales of gas-powered vehicles, increase EVs

A public hearing Thursday at the Augusta Civic Center to discuss the new potential regulations would limit the sale of gas-powered cars was met with a long debate

MAINE, Maine — On Thursday, Aug. 17, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection hosted a public hearing at the Augusta Civic Center for Mainers and environmentalists to discuss a proposed rule that would encourage auto manufacturers to offer more clean and electric vehicles and slowly but surely move toward the elimination of gas-powered vehicles.

Jack Shapiro, the climate and clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said adopting these standards would give Maine people and businesses more choices for zero-emission vehicles and clean up Maine’s air by cutting harmful tailpipe pollution.

In the spring, environmental groups brought petitions signed by Maine voters to the Board of Environmental Protection, asking the state to follow California's clean vehicle emissions standards.

Those standards would require a certain percentage of all new cars and trucks sold in Maine to be zero or near-zero emission vehicles.

Shapiro said only auto manufacturers would have the requirement to make sure they are providing cleaner cars to Mainers, but nobody would be required to switch their gas car to an electric one, if they don't want to.

Shapiro said this only applies to new vehicle sales; used vehicles are not considered under this proposal.

"What the proposal that the board is considering does is sets an increasing sales standard for automakers, so it requires them to deliver vehicles to Maine to make sure that they can, that Maine businesses and Maine people have the choice to buy them if they want," Shapiro said. "We know that the demand for electric vehicles right now outstrips supply, and so states that adopt these standards are going to get access to new models and lower priced models first."

According to the American Heart Association, 40 percent of the counties in Maine that reported air quality data received poor grades because of high ozone days. That's another reason why moving to cleaner cars would improve the quality of air Mainers breathe, Shapiro added.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills has addressed this topic in the past.

“As the governor said last year about the clean car rule, she does not believe that Maine should let decisions by any other state determine Maine’s course of action," Tony Ronzio, communications spokesperson for the governor’s energy office and the Office of Policy and the Future, said. "Instead, we should commit to a responsible, thoughtful approach to electric vehicles that will help Maine consumers and businesses save money, while reducing carbon emissions and protecting our economy and environment from the climate crisis. The Mills administration is aware of the proposals delivered by the petitioning organizations to the Board of Environmental Protection, which is an independent entity charged with their review, and will monitor its proceedings going forward." 

Several Maine House Republicans are against the move. 

Rep. Austin Theriault, R-Fort Kent, said he is against the move because he said he believes our electric infrastructure can't handle it. Theriault also said this takes away the choice from the consumer.

"In a sense forcing a dealership to sell a certain percentage of these electric and hybrid types of vehicles is a great idea, in theory, but Mainers know what's best for them. Climates are different in different parts of the state, so this should not be a one-size-fits-all rule change," Theriault said.

Theriault also said he thinks this proposal would make it harder for his constituents who are struggling to get by.

“Folks in Aroostook County are making about $28,000 per year, while the average new car is already almost double that. Gas sits around $4 per gallon, and electric rates continue to skyrocket," he said. "I suspect those who proposed and support these plans have lost touch with the struggles of Maine’s working class. Making driving more expensive to try meet the state’s arbitrary emissions goals is unacceptable."

In addition to Thursday’s Public Hearing, the DEP will be accepting public comments through Aug. 28.

After that public comment period ends, the DEP will decide which laws it will present to the Board of Environmental Protection.

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