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Maine environmental board nears decision on controversial 'clean car' rules

State environmental regulators are expected to weigh in next week on a controversial "clean cars" proposal for Maine. But some state lawmakers say it should be up to the Legislature to decide on the zero emissions standards.

The so-called "clean car" rules are opposed by many Republicans and have become a major issue heading into the election.

They would require that roughly half of cars sold in Maine by the model year 2028 are either plug-in hybrids or fully electric. That percentage would increase to 82% of car sales by 2032.

The Board of Environmental Protection was originally supposed to decide on the zero-emission standards late last year, but the vote was postponed due to the mid-December storm that knocked out power to tens of thousands of Mainers and flooded riverfront communities.

"It doesn't get more on the nose than that," Jack Shapiro of the Natural Resources Council of Maine said Wednesday during a press conference at Revision Energy in South Portland. "That's why it's really important the board doesn't delay any further and adopts these rules next week."

Jack Shapiro of the Natural Resources Council of Maine speaks a press conference at Revision Energy in South Portland on March 13, 2024. NRCM is among a handful of environmental groups that petitioned the Maine Board of Environmental Protection to approve zero-emission standards.
Nicole Ogrysko
/
Maine Public
Jack Shapiro of the Natural Resources Council of Maine speaks a press conference at Revision Energy in South Portland on March 13, 2024. NRCM is among a handful of environmental groups that petitioned the Maine Board of Environmental Protection to approve zero-emission standards.

But Republicans in Augusta are floating a bill that define vehicle emission standards as "major substantive rules," which would require approval by the Legislature. The bill, which state Rep. Michael Sobeleski, R-Phillips, introduced earlier this week, would apply retroactively to May 22, 2023.

The measure has support from both Republican and Democratic legislative leaders. Republicans have previously said that the Legislature is best equipped to handle vehicle emission standards over a citizen board.

On Wednesday, Shapiro described the bill as a last-minute attempt to override the BEP's work on zero-emission standards.

The zero-emission standards are similar to those that California and about 10 other states have adopted. Republicans, car dealers and others who have commented to the BEP about the proposal have expressed concerns about the costs and range for EVs, particularly for rural Mainers.

But environmental groups have pushed back on those concerns and argued that an EV purchase will save Mainers in the long-term. And they believe the zero emission standards would go a long way in Maine's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation accounts for 48% of Maine's carbon emissions.