AUGUSTA – Citizens turned out in droves Thursday morning to make their voices heard at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s (Maine DEP’s) public hearing on the California-style vehicle emissions rules under consideration by the agency.
Two citizen petitions – initiated by the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) – were successfully submitted earlier this year asking the Maine DEP to incorporate “the requirements of the California Advanced Clean Cars II” and “California’s Advanced Clean Trucks regulation” into Maine’s existing regulatory code.
Adoption of these new regulations would essentially result in the state phasing out the sale of gas-powered cars and trucks in favor of zero-emissions vehicles over the course of the next few years in favor of electric vehicles (EVs) and other zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs).
Before the hearing began, representatives of the NRCM gathered outside the Augusta Civic Center, holding signs with messages such as “Support Advanced Clean Car II and Truck Rules” and “Maine Deserves a Clean Transportation Future.”
At the start of the hearing, it was announced that — between the two proposals up for discussion today — 87 people had signed up to offer in-person testimony.
Over the course of the next several hours, impassioned testimony was presented both for and against the proposed rule changes.
While supporters of the California-style regulations emphasized the environmental impact of continued use of internal combustion vehicles, those who oppose their adoption spoke to a variety of practical problems associated with mandating an increase in the number electric vehicles on the grid.
Opponents also noted — on multiple occasions — that the process by which these changes are on track to be made circumvents the democratic lawmaking process. Although supporters repeatedly noted that the proposals are legally considered to be “routine technical” changes to Maine’s regulatory code, opponents argued that the changes wrought by these measures are too substantive to be implemented in this manner.
The difference is an important one. A routine technical rule requires sign off from only Gov. Janet Mills, while a major substantive rule requires approval of the State Legislature.
Opponents of the proposals also shed light on several of the complications associated with operating an electric vehicle in a cold climate like Maine’s — including their reduced driving range as a result of needing to heat the cabin of the vehicle, as well as from the temperature’s impact on the necessary chemical reactions that occur within the battery.
Supporters countered these claims by describing their own experiences with EVs, arguing that they have not had any difficulty getting where they need to go during the winter months.
Another point of contention during today’s hearing was affordability — or lack thereof.
While supporters argued that the operating costs of an electric vehicle are less than those associated with traditional internal combustion cars, opponents pointed out that the up front investment required for an electric vehicle is prohibitively high for low- and middle-income Mainers.
In addition to purchasing the vehicle itself, it was said that the cost of installing a home charging station must also be taken into consideration. Although it is possible — as some supporters pointed out today — to charge an electric vehicle using a standard wall outlet, this is not necessarily a practical long term solution for EV owners given the substantial charging times this approach entails.
Despite having said that purchasing a home charging station is not necessarily a requirement of owning an electric vehicle, supporters nonetheless seemed to assume that EV owners would have access to this technology when countering their opponents’ concerns about the lack of EV infrastructure in rural Maine.
Supporters said that the lack of charging stations in rural areas would not necessarily be problematic given that the majority of EV charging is typically done at the owner’s home. A handful of EV owners who testified today made a point of mentioning that they hardly ever need to utilize public charging stations.
Another cost-related issue brought up by opponents during today’s public hearing was the impact that saturating the market with EVs would have on the financial burden imposed upon those who continued to drive internal combustion vehicles, either by choice or out of necessity.
Opponents argued that the proposed rule changes would not only make used internal combustion vehicles more expensive and harder to come by for Mainers, but that they would result in increased repair and maintenance costs as well.
There was also disagreement over who would be impacted by the NRCM’s proposed rule changes — manufacturers or consumers.
Supporters argued that these measures are directed at manufacturers and would not result of consumers being told what vehicles they could or could not purchase.
Opponents, on the other hand, said that the effects of these California-style regulations would ultimately impact consumers vis-à-vis the kinds of cars available for them to purchase at dealerships.
On a similar note, there were also markedly different opinions expressed during today’s hearing with relation to the selection of EVs currently available for Mainers who wish to purchase one.
While supporters said that these rule changes would help to increase the availability and selection of EVs in Maine, opponents said that there is no shortage of electric vehicles on dealership lots.
Some testified that they have seen a number of dealerships throughout the state that have had EVs on their lots for more than 30 days. According to those who testified on this matter, remaining unsold for 30-plus days is often considered to be a good indicator of poor demand for the car in question.
It is also important to note that several of those who testified in support of these regulations advocated for the board to take a more aggressive approach to EV mandates, arguing that the rules under consideration today don’t go far enough. These individuals stated that Maine ought to follow California’s lead and require that 100 percent of new cars sold in the state be EVs by 2035, just twelve years from now.
As the hearing on the NRCM-backed rules was being held, the parking lot at the NRCM headquarters in Augusta contained no EVs. It also doesn’t appear that the NRCM has invested in EV charging stations for their employees.
In light of today’s hearing, it still remains to be seen how the Maine DEP will proceed with regard to the California-style rule changes proposed by the NRCM.
The Maine DEP will be accepting written testimony from members of the public through August 28. Testimony can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.