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March 8, 2024

New bill outlines a longer path to zero-emission vehicle rules in CT

JOE AMON / CONNECTICUT PUBLIC UConn, after providing free electric-vehicle charging for roughly 10 years, has levied a fee for EVs to charge at their Storrs campus and others around the state.

Unwilling or unable to implement clean-air regulations committing Connecticut to zero-emission vehicles by 2035, legislators are regrouping with a proposal mandating the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont find a new path forward.

A bill filed this week would require the administration to deliver by Nov. 15 a “Zero-Emission Vehicle Roadmap,” and it would create a 40-member Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Coordinating Council to assess the road ahead.

Lamont expressed disappointment Thursday in the measure, drafted as a compromise to proposed regulations that would have kept Connecticut with California and other states that have mandated automakers phase out sales of new gas-powered vehicles over the next decade.

If there was no will to implement the California standards and the 2035 mandate, Lamont said he had hoped lawmakers at least would affirm it remained Connecticut’s goal as a way to curb carbon emissions and mitigate climate change.

“I think it’s a nothing-burger, a little disappointing,” Lamont said of the legislation. “I thought at least a goal would make sure the private sector knows where we want to be over the next 10, 11 years.”

The Democratic co-chairs of the legislature’s Transportation Committee said the creation of the council was a necessary step to assess Connecticut’s readiness for a shift to EVs, which will require a more robust electric grid and a public network of charging stations now in the planning stages.

“What can I do to alleviate the concerns I’m hearing from constituents?” said Rep. Roland Lemar of New Haven, adding the new council would “really, truly investigate the concerns that I’m hearing on a bipartisan basis, frankly, about whether or not our state will be ready.”

“We heard loud and clear from colleagues and residents across the state that we need to take a pragmatic approach to this level of progressivity,” said Sen. Christine Cohen of Guilford.

Under federal law, states have one of two choices in clean-air standards, both of which are encouraging a rapid shift away from gasoline: California and its 2035 deadline affecting most new vehicle sales, or federal rules that are less aggressive yet still ambitious.

Last year, the Biden administration proposed emission standards that it said would result in electric vehicles accounting for 67% of new car sales and 46% of new truck sales by the 2032 model year.

Biden reportedly is sticking by the 2032 goal while slowing how quickly automakers would have to ramp up EV sales — an election-year concession to both manufacturers and unions. On Monday, House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said the Biden shift made keeping the 2035 mandate unlikely.

Lamont had tried to keep Connecticut on the California standards with a proposal that the state adopt 2035 as a goal, with a mandatory legislative reappraisal in three years about the availability and cost of EVs and the state’s progress towards a charging infrastructure and updated electric grid.

“I said, ‘Make 2035 a goal, maybe not a mandate.’ I said, ‘Let’s have a chance to take a look at it in three years. And if you think we’re not selling as many hybrids as you thought we ought to be selling, we can have a chance to relook at it then.’ Why do we want to pull the plug on it now, so to speak?” Lamont said. “I just think the politics got folks a little nervous. I’ve been there before.”

Plug-in hybrids, which are powered by gas engines and batteries, meet the California and federal standards.

Lamont did not criticize Biden’s retreat, noting the administration was standing by the  proposed federal mandate for a majority of new sales to be EVs by 2032.

“I think you also got to be pragmatic,” said Lamont, a Democrat who was an early backer of Biden in 2016. “Let’s face it, EVs are not rolling out as fast as we hope they were going to. A goal would help that process.”

The new Connecticut measure proposed by Democrats is House Bill 5485 and will be the subject of a public hearing by the Transportation Committee on March 13.

By statute, the proposed Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Coordinating Council would include 12 lawmakers, six state agency heads, the chair of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, the consumer counsel and a wide range of stakeholders, including representatives of municipalities, electric utilities and manufacturers of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure.

The state agencies represented would include: Energy and Environmental Protection; Public Health; Transportation; Administrative Services and the Office of Policy and Management. The Democratic co-chairs and ranking Republican members of the legislature’s Environment, Energy and Technology, and Transportation committees would be members.

“I don’t think the commission is designed to elicit meaningful debate on the issues surrounding EVs,” House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford. “I think the makeup of that commission should be broader. I also think we should examine whether the federal standards would make sense for Connecticut.”

Once the 2035 model year begins, Connecticut will default to the federal standards due to its failure to adopt regulations implementing the updated California standards. Connecticut has been using the California standards under a law passed nearly unanimously in 2004.

The new bill says the mission of the EV council would be to “assess and report on strategies and plans necessary to ensure the affordable, equitable, accessible and reliable integration of battery electric vehicles, fuel cell electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and range-extended battery electric vehicles into the state’s transportation network.”

Katie Dykes, the commissioner of energy and environmental protection, and Marissa P. Gillett, the chair of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, had not yet seen the legislation and could not assess how the council’s work would differ from EV planning at DEEP or PURA.

The bill would require the state to publicize rebates and other assistance for the purchase of EVs in poorer environmental justice communities and authorize $10 million in grants for charging stations in those same communities. It also calls for a feasibility study of “expanding mobility options in rural communities.”

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