PITTSBURGH (TNS) — Pennsylvania is rolling out a plan to give car buyers better access to electric cars and trucks without having to travel to neighboring states to find more plug-in options on dealers’ lots.
With a draft rule released by the Department of Environmental Protection, the commonwealth is aiming to join a growing list of states in a program led by California that requires a portion of light-duty auto sales to be zero-emission vehicles — electric, plug-in hybrid or hydrogen-powered cars and trucks.
DEP officials expect the rule to spur a modest boost in clean car sales. Now, electric vehicles make up about 1% to 2% of new car and truck sales in Pennsylvania. The program is expected to raise that to between 6% and 8% when it would take effect in 2025.
”This is not only an environmental benefit, but it’s a consumer choice benefit,” Mark Hammond, director of DEP’s Bureau of Air Quality, said at a regulatory advisory board meeting on Thursday.
The 13 states that participate in the zero-emission program — including neighboring states New York, New Jersey and Maryland — get a disproportionate share of the electric vehicles sold in the U.S. because carmakers get credit for shipping cars there, DEP officials said.
That leaves a smaller inventory and fewer options for car buyers and dealers in states like Pennsylvania.
With the new program, Pennsylvania hopes to get more access.
Medium- and large-scale automakers would generate credits by sending electric cars to Pennsylvania for sale or could buy credits from other electric vehicle makers to meet their requirements. Fully electric vehicles would generate up to four credits, based on their range, while plug-in hybrids would generate about a credit or less.
The current program calls for zero-emission vehicle credits to make up 22% of vehicle sales in each participating state for model year 2025 and beyond. Because automakers can generate credits in multiple ways — and some cars are worth more credits than others — it is difficult to tell how many and which type of electric vehicles will be offered for sale, according to a report this year by the statewide nonprofit PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center.
PennEnvironment and other environmental groups have urged the Wolf administration to raise its electric vehicle ambitions.
President Joe Biden has set a target for half of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2030 to be electric, which is generally in line with most major automakers’ goals of making electric vehicles 40%-50% of new car sales in 2030.
California’s governor has announced plans to phase out the sale of vehicles with traditional internal combustion engines in that state by 2035 — and may use the zero-emission vehicle program as the tool to achieve that goal — but the Wolf administration has no plans to follow suit.
The draft rule under consideration in Pennsylvania would adopt the California vehicle program’s current requirements only; any changes California makes to the program would not be adopted in Pennsylvania unless the Commonwealth goes through a separate rule-making process, Mr. Hammond said.
”There has been lot of misinformation floating around” claiming DEP plans to adopt a ban on new cars with internal combustion engines in 2035, he said. “We are not doing that. I like to speak bluntly: No IC engine ban. Absolutely not.”
But Pennsylvania’s timeline threatens to set up confusing compliance obligations for automakers, said Julia Rege, vice president for energy and environment at the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group that represents the makers of nearly all of the light-duty vehicles sold in the U.S.
States essentially have two options for adopting emissions rules for vehicles: meet the standards set by the federal government or sign on to California’s stricter standards. But by the time Pennsylvania plans to line up with California’s rules in 2025, she said, the Golden State will have set new standards for the year 2025 and beyond.
”In effect, Pennsylvania could be adopting a program that, by the time it’s implemented, no longer exists,” she said.
Hammond said Pennsylvania will evaluate the next stage of California’s rules once they are developed and evaluate whether or not to adopt those rules.
Robert Routh, an attorney for the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council, said the current proposal is an important start.
”To avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, we will need to do more than simply change motors in the vehicles we drive,” he said, “but it is nonetheless still critical that Pennsylvania join states across the country in stepping up to make clean cars both cheaper and easier to find.”
Pennsylvania’s Climate Action Plan, which was released last month, found that increasing adoption of light-duty electric vehicles could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 23.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2050 compared to business as usual — making it one of the most effective strategies for slashing emissions in the plan.
Those estimates were based on electric vehicles representing 20% of light-duty vehicle sales by 2030 and 70% by 2050. Meeting that mark would require a capital expenditure of $4.8 billion, the plan said.
The positive economic impacts of such a transition to electric vehicles would outweigh the negatives, according to the climate plan: In 2050, Pa. consumers would be expected to save $2.7 billion on fuel costs and $1.3 billion on vehicle maintenance and repair.
The savings for avoided health impacts from reducing tailpipe pollution could be greater than $2 billion in 2050, according to an American Lung Association study.