Rhode Island’s decision last week to adopt a California-led push to phase out the sale of new gas-powered passenger vehicles is the latest in an effort that will see more states follow closely behind the push to transition to electric vehicles.
Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee (D) on May 10 announced the state’s Department of Environmental Management filed regulations, first advanced by the California Air Resources Board in 2022, to require all new cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs sold in the state to be zero emission by 2035.
“DEM is taking a major step to fight climate change in the transportation sector,” Department of Environmental Management Director Terry Gray said in a statement. “In terms of economic impact, states joining together to send a clear signal to the market will result in greater economies of scale, driving down the prices of ZEVs, and ensuring that Rhode Island dealers and customers have full access to electric vehicles.”
Under the federal Clean Air Act, other states can opt into California’s more-stringent standards instead of the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidelines. Rhode Island now joins Washington, Virginia, Vermont, Oregon, New York, and Massachusetts in pledging to adopt the Advanced Clean Cars II rule.
Other states are poised to follow California’s lead to cut emissions from the transportation sector, the country’s largest source of greenhouse gas, at a level much more restrictive level than that designated by the EPA.
“When it comes to climate action, states are where the rubber figuratively and literally meets the road,” said Alli Gold Roberts, senior director of state policy at Ceres, a Boston-based sustainability nonprofit.
Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Minnesota, and Nevada are all states that could adopt the clean car standards. Many of those states have historically followed suit with California’s previous passenger car regulations, according to a list from the California Air Resources Board.
Each state is in different phases of considering and potentially adopting the standards. Certain states are still in an initial public comment period, while others are looking to adopt sooner, said Kathy Harris, who leads clean vehicle policy work at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The way standards are adopted varies state by state, too—some could regulate administratively, while others would need to pass legislation.
Aside from Rhode Island, Maryland was one of the most recent states to announce that it would adopt the standards. New Jersey is most ripe for adoption in the short term, and Maine is a possibility down the road, Gold Roberts said.
The automotive industry is preparing for the transition as more states prepare for adoption, but hurdles remain ahead.
Manufacturers have scaled up their US electric vehicle investments to about $210 billion over the next seven years, according to an Atlas Public Policy report from January.
“The business community is moving in this direction,” Gold Roberts said.
One potential roadblock for states is the country’s lack of robust electric vehicle charging infrastructure, Harris said.
In an April fact sheet, the Biden administration cited over 135,000 public EV chargers across the US to support the roughly three million electric vehicles on the road.
But the infrastructure law from 2021 stands to help, offering $7.5 billion to build a 500,000-strong network of charging stations.
Some sections of the public also still think of electric vehicles as expensive, Harris said. Roughly two-thirds of Americans say EVs are better for the environment, but the same amount say they would have to shell out more cash to buy one, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center report.
The average electric vehicle sold for $55,089 in April, down $10,096 year-over-year as manufacturers slash costs to boost demand, but still above the industry average of $48,275, according to Kelley Blue Book.
Government tax credits outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as others given by individual states, could help offset costs, Harris said.
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