The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) heard public comment from lawmakers, organizations and the general public over Gov. Ned Lamont’s announcement that Connecticut would begin phasing out the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles beginning in 2027.
Connecticut is one of sixteen states that adhere to California’s emission standards as opposed to federal emission standards. California last year announced they would no longer allow the sale of new gasoline powered vehicles by 2035, and, instead, all new vehicle sales would have to be zero emission vehicles, particularly electric vehicles.
The proposed change in Connecticut comes on the heels of last year’s move by the General Assembly to adopt California’s emission standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks, which was opposed by Connecticut’s trucking industry, but the latest move to phase out the sale of gasoline powered cars could have much more far-reaching effects.
DEEP has consistently identified motor vehicle transportation as one of the leading impediments to reaching the state’s greenhouse gas emission goals. The proposed regulation would only apply to new vehicles sold in Connecticut. Buyers could still acquire used gasoline powered cars or buy new vehicles in other states.
Representatives from environmental organizations like Save the Sound, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Acadia Center all testified that Connecticut’s adoption of these emission standards will lead to less pollution in the air, fewer asthma deaths, more jobs to build out the infrastructure for EV’s and help combat climate change.
“These regulations build on Connecticut’s long-standing commitment to reducing the harmful effects of motor vehicle pollution on our residents and addressing climate change,” said Charles Rothenberger, counsel for Save the Sound. “The regulations are essential for meeting these goals and are fully in the authority of the agency to adopt and implement.”
Samantha Dynowski, director of the Sierra Club in Connecticut, said California’s standards have already been adopted in “seven other states,” including nearby neighbors, Massachusetts and New York and is in the process of being adopted by a number of other states like Maine and Colorado.
“We urge the adoption of the ACC II regulation in Connecticut to reduce pollution and protect public health as well as provide benefits for consumers and the economy,” Dynowski said. “Right now, its arguably less expensive to own an EV than a similar gasoline model… and consumers want them. The demand for electric vehicles in Connecticut is growing rapidly.”
Many major car manufacturers have already announced slates of new electric vehicle that are already being produced or are scheduled for production as demand and government rebates for EVs have risen. Many supporters of the change saw it as the state actively leaning into a growing consumer trend.
Ana McMonigle, a staff attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation said they “whole-heartedly support” the regulation and that Connecticut was bound by statute to adopt these regulations.
“They would reduce Connecticut’s greenhouse gas emissions as required by our state’s climate law, the Global Warming Solutions Act,” McMonigle said during testimony, saying that, according to estimates, it would reduce the amount of greenhouse gases put into the air by 3.6 million metric tons by 2030. “Transitioning to electric vehicles will allow for significant fuel and maintenance cost savings, attract investment in charging infrastructure, create clean energy jobs and even put downward pressure on electricity rates.”
Opponents, however, argued the regulation would take choice away from Connecticut consumers, create more demand on the electric grid than can be met, foster long wait times at recharging stations and ultimately increases pollution in places like Africa and China where the battery minerals are mined and then produced.
Chris Herb, president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association (CEMA), argued that DEEP’s own analysis of the regulation is flawed because it did not account for the “hundreds of mom and pop businesses that sell diesel and gasoline.”
“It entirely ignores the devastating effect it will have on local family-owned businesses that sell fuel,” Herb said, adding that oil refiners are not permitted to own and operate gas stations. Herb argued the fiscal analysis did not fully account for revenue losses to the state for phasing out gas-powered cars because it didn’t account for the oil company gross receipts tax. “Since the fiscal note is incorrect as well as the regulatory flexibility analysis, we recommend that DEEP start over so that it accurately portrays the actual impact it will have on government and businesses.”
Michael Fox, executive director of the Gasoline and Automotive Service Dealers of America, said his members “unanimously oppose” the regulation that he said is based on “fear mongering.”
“This does not mean we do not support continued efforts to reduce carbon emissions,” Fox said. “What we do support is rules and regulations that will not cause job losses, not result in the loss of federal and state tax revenue if these regulations are approved.”
Among the many concerns brought up by both sides of the debate was Connecticut’s electric grid. Connecticut already has some of the highest electricity prices in the country, and ISO New England has warned in the past about potential rolling blackouts as the region struggles to get enough natural gas to power electricity generators.
Proponents argued that Connecticut has ample time to build out both the electric grid and charging station infrastructure and that electric cars can often feed energy back into the grid, while opponents warned of sky-high prices and a lack of energy generation.
Testifying on behalf of Eversource, the state’s largest electricity generator, Digaunto Chatterjee, vice president of system planning for Eversource, said Eversource is ready to work with the state to reach its goals, but it will require cooperation and planning and likely billions of dollars to build out the grid.
Chatterjee said the Connecticut at peak demand uses about 8,000 megawatts of electricity from Eversource alone, and that adding light and medium duty vehicles will add an additional demand of 4,000 megawatts. Heavy duty vehicles would add an additional 1,800 megawatt demand to the grid.
“We estimate that about eight substations would require upgrades on our system, and we would need to build about 14 new electric substations,” Chatterjee said. “Without having done any detailed design and engineering and developing firm cost estimates, at a high ballpark estimate, that’s about $1.5 billion to $2.4 billion dollars of additional grid development just on the bulk station.”
Chatterjee, who added that he drives an EV, said that was only part of the infrastructure investment that would need to be made, noting that if all his neighbors adopted EV vehicles and the necessary home charging equipment, Eversource would have to upgrade the transformers on his street. If adoption spread further, it would require even more upgrades.
“This highlights why transmission planning, distribution planning it interlinked with the state’s clean energy planning goals,” Chatterjee added, “but we need the state’s support and a supportive regulatory environment to proactively have the utilities build the infrastructure necessary for the state’s clean energy goals.”
DEEP was only taking comment and not responding to those testifying during the hearing but indicated they would respond to the public’s concerns in writing. Lawmakers also weighed in, both during testimony and through press releases.
Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, chair of the Transportation Committee said in a press release that this should not be a partisan issue and that Connecticut should honor its commitment to adopt California’s standards.
“We’ve got young adults across America who are right now suing their states, and winning, because we’ve got a climate crisis on our hands that is ruining our planet for future generations,” Cohen said. “Now is the time to come together to make these cars more affordable and easier to use for our constituents. The markets are shifting, and Connecticut needs to be prepared — partisanship will only slow progress.”
Testifying before DEEP Rep. Patrick Callahan, R-New Fairfield, ranking member on the Environment Committee, said this should be a matter for legislative debate, not an executive order.
“I think this is premature and this is change by decree and I believe this change should be evolutionary, not revolutionary as the free market should continue to institute and develop more clean emission standards,” Callahan said. “This is a huge mistake and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection should not be allowed to do this without going through the legislative process.”