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January 16, 2024

Will CT ban new gas car sales? Here’s what’s going on

JAN ELLEN SPIEGEL / CTMIRROR.ORG A Tesla at a charging station in Greenwich.

Connecticut’s progress toward reducing motor vehicle emissions, the state’s largest source of pollution, hit a major roadblock last fall after Gov. Ned Lamont pulled regulations that would have required that all new cars and 40-75% of new trucks sold in the state beginning in 2035 be zero-emission.

The state had been in the process of implementing the motor vehicle emissions laws it had passed, which adhere to those devised by California.

But a political hurdle stopped the legislature from finishing that process, which could make it harder for Connecticut to meet its greenhouse gas emission goals and reduce its air pollution.

Here’s what to know.

What are the California emissions standards, and why does Connecticut follow them?

The federal Clean Air Act of 1970 stipulates that California, which began setting its own auto emissions standards before the law existed, can set standards that are stricter than those from the Environmental Protection Agency.

All other states choose between adhering to the EPA’s standards or California’s. Connecticut, like more than a dozen other states — including almost all of its northeast neighbors — has chosen to use the California standards.

Twenty years ago the Connecticut legislature approved following California’s standards for cars and light-duty trucks, and in 2022, the legislature decided to follow California’s medium- and heavy-duty truck standards as well.

So if Connecticut has been following California’s standards, what changed?

California updated its regulations in 2022, requiring that all vehicles sold beginning in 2035 have zero emissions. Between 40-75% of new trucks sold would also be subject to the zero-emissions requirement.

These rules would only affect the sale of new cars after 2035, meaning cars purchased before that date would not be affected. Used gas vehicles and new hybrid zero-emissions vehicles with a gas backup could still be sold.

Since Connecticut law already requires the state to follow California’s standards, after California changed theirs, Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection updated its regulations too.

Then what’s the problem?

Unlike most states, Connecticut gives the legislature final say over regulations through its Regulation Review Committee, a group of state legislators that’s made up of an even number of Democrats and Republicans.

The committee’s job is only to make sure that regulations comport with the legislation that authorized them.

But more than half of its members — all the Republicans and at least two Democrats, Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury — signaled that they would vote no on the regulations, causing Lamont to withdraw them last November.

What concerns do some lawmakers have with moving toward zero-emission cars?
Osten was concerned about the impact on agriculture in her largely rural district, while Hartley questioned the feasibility of establishing the necessary charging infrastructure and the power for it by 2035.

Republicans have echoed Hartley’s concerns, saying that Democrats have not presented a larger plan for creating the infrastructure necessary to support so many electric vehicles in the state. In fact, the state has had an Electric Vehicle Roadmap in place since 2020.

Republican Senate Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, has argued that the gas car phase-out would harm most Connecticut residents, since many people cannot afford electric vehicles.

So, what happens now?

When Lamont withdrew his regulations, Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said the state legislature would look to pass a new bill during the 2024 legislative session, which begins Feb. 7. No proposal has been unveiled yet. There has also been discussion of a special session ahead of the official 2024 session to deal with the situation.

Ritter said one possibility is for Connecticut to adopt New Mexico and Colorado’s implementation strategy. Both states signed off on California’s rules but included a commitment to assess progress toward establishing the necessary infrastructure prior to 2035.

However, Kelly says he is opposed to this possibility as well since it “starts the engine” on the switch to EVs before creating a plan for affordability or infrastructure.

If no action is taken, Connecticut will revert to federal EPA standards that aim to have 67% of all new cars and 25% of new heavy-duty trucks sold in the U.S. be electric by 2032.

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