Nearly six months after the Maine Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) held its first public hearing on the proposed California-style vehicle emissions standards, a second opportunity for public comment is set to come to a close on Monday, February 5.
The controversial policy will advance through the rulemaking process on the heels of a “State of the State” speech in which Gov. Janet Mills touted taxpayer-funded investments in Electric Vehicles (EVs) as a key tool in her fight to lower the planet’s temperatures.
According to a BEP spokesperson, the rule will once again receive a public hearing in March.
Last year, a citizen petition initiated by the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) was submitted to Maine BEP asking for “the requirements of the California Advanced Clean Cars II” to be incorporated into Maine’s existing regulatory code.
Although only 150 people Maine residents signed the petition, it nonetheless set in motion a bureaucratic process that may allow the Mills Administration to impose sweeping controls on what kinds of vehicles can be sold in Maine — all without the approval of Maine’s elected lawmakers.
Adoption of these new regulations would essentially result in the state phasing out the sale of traditional gas-powered cars and trucks in favor of EVs over the course of the next few years.
In the current form, this mandate would require that 51 percent of new car sales in Maine be comprised of EVs by model year 2028 and 82 percent by model year 2032. The rule would force auto dealers to forgo sales on gas-powered vehicles unless sales for EVs increased substantially over the level of demand seen in recent years.
While those in support of the mandate have pointed out the alleged environmental benefits associated with a transition toward EVs such as improved air quality, opponents of the rule emphasize the practical challenges associated with a rapid and artificial increase in EV usage, particularly in Maine’s cold and largely rural landscape.
Opponents have also pointed out that arguments in favor of EVs’ environmental benefits typically ignore that the electricity that charges their batteries often derives from fossil fuels, while the manufacturing process required to make the batteries is hardly friendly to the environment — or human rights.
Charging an EV in Maine, for example, still relies mostly on natural gas imported from New Brunswick. According to ISO New England, the nonprofit that manages New England’s power grid, Maine’s reliance on natural gas also surges during the evening and at night, meaning the peak EV charging periods will be heavily reliant on CO2-producing natural gas.
Most EVs use massive lithium-ion batteries that require — in addition to lithium — cobalt, a large share of which is mined by child laborers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a report from Amnesty International.
Closer to home, Republican policymakers, auto dealers, and activists have also taken issue with the rulemaking process itself.
Although Maine law used to require under 38 M.R.S. § 585-D that rule changes related to vehicle emissions standards — such as the EV mandate currently under consideration by the Board — be subjected to legislative oversight, lawmakers repealed that provision in 2005.
Consequently, these rule changes have the potential to go into effect without any meaningful involvement from elected officials. That means lawmakers will never be required to go on record as supporting or opposing the rules, and voters will have a harder time holding them accountable regardless of which way they vote.
Despite the fact that the BEP has recommended to legislators that they amend the law to require oversight of similar rulemaking in the future, they are nonetheless forging ahead with their consideration of the California-style vehicle restrictions.
Although the BEP was originally scheduled to vote on the adoption of these rules just days before Christmas — on December 21, 2023 — the meeting was canceled due to a deadly and destructive storm that took place several days prior and left nearly half the state without power.
As a result of the delay, the Maine BEP amended the proposed rule changes to cut the first year of implementation from the program, which was originally intended to begin in 2027 with a requirement that 43 percent of new car sales be comprised of EVs.
Because of this “substantial change,” the Maine BEP reopened the public comment period for the proposal, accepting input from Mainers until February 5, 2024.
Maine BEP Executive Analyst William F. Hinkel told the Maine Wire that the Board has “tentatively scheduled further rulemaking on the proposed [Advanced Clean Cars II Program] for a meeting on March 20, 2024, at the Augusta Civic Center.”
“A Board packet and meeting agenda will be posted on the BEP’s website, once available,” Hinkel said. “Meeting agendas are typically posted about a week prior to the meeting.”
Mills has long been an advocate of pushing EVs as a solution to global warming.
“The sea is rising. The wind is wilder. We no longer know the storms and winters of yesterday because when we burn fossil fuels like gasoline, oil and natural gas, we expel harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and those gases envelop our planet. Trap heat and moisture that melts the ancient glaciers, raises sea levels, and increases global temperatures,” Gov. Mills said during her Jan. 30 address to lawmakers.
Expanding Maine’s currently anemic network of EV charging stations, Mills said, will be part of her strategy to reverse sea level rise and make the weather less extreme.