Maine panel rejects plan to phase out sales of gas-powered vehicles

(The Center Square) — A Maine environmental board has rejected a plan to adopt California’s tough emissions standards, including a statewide ban on the sale of gas-powered vehicles.

In a 4-2 vote, the Maine Board of Environmental Protection on Wednesday rejected a proposal to adopt California-modeled emissions standards that would require an increasing percentage of new cars sold in Maine to be zero-emission vehicles, with the goal of 82% by model year 2032. The restrictions would have applied to new passenger cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty vehicles.

Environmental groups pushing for adoption of the rules, known as the Advanced Clean Cars II and Advanced Clean Trucks rules, called the vote a “dramatic departure” from Maine’s decades-long commitment to reduce pollution from cars and trucks. It marked the first time since 2001 that the agency has chosen not to adopt stricter tailpipe or fuel efficiency standards, they said.

“Maine regulators had a chance to cut climate-damaging emissions, clean up the air we breathe, save Mainers billions in fuel costs – all while improving our health and the health of the planet,” Emily K. Green, a senior attorney at Conservation Law Foundation, said in a statement. “This is a missed opportunity and will severely hurt Maine’s families and businesses.”

Matt Cannon, director of energy and conservation at the Sierra Club of Maine, blamed a “misinformation campaign” by the fossil fuel industry and Republican lawmakers for killing the proposal.

“The gas and oil industry would like Maine to continue burning fossil fuels and delay adopting common-sense solutions, like ACCII, that address the climate crisis and protect consumer costs,” said.

However, critics of the aggressive emissions standards praised the board’s decision, saying the rules would have forced the state’s consumers to buy expensive electric vehicles.

“House Republicans issued a statement saying they are relieved that the proposal was rejected, but said, “the fact that it came this close to happening because of 150 extremists should be a wakeup call for Maine citizens.”

“Maine is on the verge of being overrun by disastrous policies that have failed elsewhere,” the statement said. “Higher prices, less freedom, and one-party rule is our future unless citizens take our government back from the special interests that are lowering our quality of life.”

The Maine Policy Institute, a conservative think-tank, also welcomed the board’s rejection and said the restrictions were “costly, problematic, unrealistic and would have done nothing to measurably mitigate climate change.”

“Individual Maine citizens simply could not have afforded this mandate, and it’s refreshing to see the BEP recognize as much,” Matthew Gagnon, the group’s CEO, said in a statement. “Mainers are smart. If market conditions and infrastructure were in a place that made EV ownership realistic for Maine consumers, they would make this choice on their own without government coercion.”

Maine’s climate change plans call for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030. Tailpipe pollution accounts for more than half of the state’s emissions.

A law signed by Gov. Janet Mills in 2021 calls for accelerating Maine’s transition to EVs by encouraging more electric charging stations and reducing the costs consumers pay for charging vehicles. Those plans include putting another 219,000 EVs on Maine’s road within the next decade.

Currently, EVs account for only about 6% of the registered cars and trucks on the state’s roads, according to the Maine Registry of Motor Vehicles.

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