The Maine Board of Environmental Protection (Maine BEP) is expected to discuss the proposed controversial, California-style vehicle emissions regulations at a meeting held four days before Christmas, on December 21.
Earlier this fall, the Maine BEP took a straw vote of 4-2 in favor of adopting California’s Advanced Clear Car Program — a set of rules requiring that 43% of new cars sold in Maine be ZEVs by model year 2027 and 82% by model year 2032.
A final vote could not be taken by the board until members had officially responded to the more than a thousand public comments that had been offered in relation to the proposed rule change.
As of now, it is not clear whether the Maine BEP will move to make a final decision to approve these new regulations or if they will just be taking the opportunity to further discuss them in light of their tentative approval.
This new set of regulations — California’s Advanced Clear Car Program — was brought before the Maine BEP by the Natural Resource Council of Maine (NRCM) using citizen petitions.
According to Maine law, anyone can ask a state agency to adopt or change a rule so long as they are able to submit a petition signed by 150-plus registered voters supporting the request in question.
One major point of contention concerning the proposed vehicle emissions regulations is their classification as “routine technical” as opposed to “major substantive.”
While “routine technical” changes are not subject to legislative oversight, “major substantive” ones are.
Routine technical rule changes are defined in state law as those which “establish standards of practice or procedure for the conduct of business with or before an agency,” as well as those which cannot be understood as “major substantive.”
State law defines major substantive rule changes as those which “require the exercise of significant agency discretion or interpretation in drafting” or “are reasonably expected” to result in:
- “A significant increase in the cost of doing business,”
- “A significant reduction in property values,”
- “The loss or significant reduction of government benefits or services,”
- “The imposition of state mandates on units of local government as defined in the Constitution of Maine, Article IX, Section 21,”
- “Or other serious burdens on the public or units of local government.”
Because the new vehicle emissions standards have been classified by the Maine BEP as routine technical, they were not subjected to legislative review.
Had they been categorized as major substantive, these new regulations could not be formally adopted until after they had undergone legislative review — meaning that lawmakers would need to enact legislation authorizing their adoption before they could go into effect.
Opponents of the new vehicle emissions standards have argued that the new regulations ought to have been classified as major substantive due to their anticipated effects on Mainers.
Earlier this month, Rep. Joshua Morris (R-Turner) attempted to introduce a bill for the next legislative session titled “An Act to Enhance Legislative Oversight of Rules Regulating Electric Vehicles,” but Democrat lawmakers on the Legislative Council blocked it from progressing.
Although Rep. Morris did appeal their decision, Democrat members once again prevented the bill from moving forward in the legislative process.
“I believe that we are the ones elected to represent the people,” Morris said at the Legislative Council hearing. “As you know, the Board of Environmental Protection has instituted new rules around electric vehicles that I think are very stringent and don’t really make sense, but I think we should be the ones who have final say over the matter.”
“It shouldn’t be decided by bureaucrats, it should be decided by the people who elect us and their representatives,” Morris said. “That’s what they sent us here to do.
“I certainly think that the rules should be repealed,” Morris concluded, “but I believe at the very least that something that massive and that impactful on Maine citizens should be decided by us — the legislature — not by an unelected board.”
“It’s unfortunate that the majority of Democrats on Legislative Council do not feel such an extreme proposal from BEP does not require legislative oversight,” Morris told the Maine Wire. “By not allowing my proposal they are allowing California policies pushed by environmental extremists to become the law for hardworking Mainers.”
“The people deserve better from their elected representatives,” Morris said.
In addition to the concerns that have been raised about the process by which these rules have come into being, the substance of the new regulations have also proven to be quite contentious among Mainers.
Over the summer, a Maine BEP hearing concerning these regulations saw a massive turnout — nearly 90 people signed up to offer in-person testimony that day, and many more submitted written testimony in the weeks to come.
While supporters ardently emphasized the environmental benefits associated with hastening the transition to zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs), opponents underscored a number of practical challenges associated with forcing such a change to occur so rapidly.
Among the issues highlighted by opponents were the prohibitive upfront-costs associated with purchasing a ZEV, the inefficiency of electric vehicles (EVs) in colder climates, the lack of charging infrastructure — especially in rural Maine — as well as the potential market repercussions for those who continue to use traditional, internal combustion vehicles, either by choice or out of necessity.
Supporters countered many of these claims.
Primarily, they argued that EVs are generally a more cost-effective option for those who are budget conscious — despite the high up-front cost — on account of the fact that they have lower operating and maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle compared to traditional combustion-engine cars.
Supporters also shot down concerns that were raised about the efficiency of EVs in cold weather, citing their own experiences as proof that this is not the case. Multiple studies, however, have shown that EVs have notably longer charging times and shorter ranges when the temperature begins to drop.
Those in favor of these new rules also asserted that the majority of EV owners charge their vehicles using a private charging station at home in response to concerns about the dearth of public chargers in rural Maine.
Important to note, however, is that there can be a substantial up-front cost associated with installing an efficient home charging station — anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 for a Level 2 charger to as much as $50,000 for a Level 3 charger, which requires substantial electrical upgrades.
Using a Level 2 station, an EV can be charged from zero to one hundred percent in a little more than three hours, according to JD Power.
A Level 3 charger can accomplish the same thing in roughly thirty minutes.
Although standard wall outlets may be used to charge EVs, this takes significantly longer — as much as thirty-two hours to fully charge the car’s battery.
Similar California-inspired regulations — which would have prohibited the sale of new gas-powered vehicles entirely by 2035 — have recently been under consideration in Connecticut.
Members of the state legislature’s Regulation Review Committee, however, pressured the governor to withdraw the regulations after garnering enough votes to kill the proposal permanently.
Instead, Connecticut lawmakers will study and debate the possibility when they reconvene next year. As part of the process, the state’s transportation and environment committees can be expected to hold hearings to delve more deeply into the issue.
Given the Maine BEP’s current approach to adopting the similar — albeit less stringent — set of California-style vehicle emissions standards, it is unlikely that lawmakers in Maine will ultimately have the same opportunity to weigh in on these consequential changes to state regulations.
The Maine BEP will meet on December 21 at 9am in the Augusta Civic Center to discuss — and potentially vote on — these California-style vehicle emissions regulations that have garnered such fervent attention from Mainers on both sides of the issue.