An electric vehicle plugged into a fast charger in Rutland in February. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

State officials are moving forward with a suite of transportation regulations, the weightiest of which is designed to transition Vermont’s new-car buyers to electric vehicles in a little more than a decade. 

The regulation, adapted from California’s Advanced Clean Cars II, would prohibit car manufacturers from selling new internal combustion vehicles — such as passenger cars and light-duty trucks that run on gasoline — in Vermont by the vehicle model year 2035. 

Instead, manufacturers would need to sell zero emission vehicles, which include all-battery electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids. 

The rule would not prohibit Vermonters from buying cars that run on gasoline; those vehicles would still be available on the used-car market. 

“All of these rules impose requirements on auto manufacturers. They do not impose any requirements on consumers directly,” said Megan O’Toole, climate change mitigation coordinator at the state Department of Environmental Conservation. 

Unlike other climate measures, such as the clean heat standard, the measure has been channeled through the rulemaking process rather than through the lawmakers in the Statehouse. Officials from the Agency of Natural Resources submitted the draft rule to the Interagency Committee on Administrative Rules in late June, and a hearing is scheduled for July 11. 

Vermont’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020 legally requires the state to reduce its emissions in set amounts by 2025, 2030 and 2050, and each sector, including transportation, has its own set of emissions reductions requirements. 

Transportation accounts for about 40% of the state’s emissions, more than any other sector. Accordingly, the state must reduce the sector’s emissions by around 40%. Advanced Clean Cars II is expected to account for about a third of the goal in the transportation sector. 

That impact will increase after the rule is fully implemented in 2035, making it more possible for the state to meet its 2050 goal for the sector, O’Toole said. 

Last December, Vermont released its first version of the Climate Action Plan, which outlines pathways to reach those emissions reductions. With the two biggest-ticket items in the plan having recently failed —  a proposed statewide clean heat standard and the regional Transportation and Climate Initiative Program — the rule is the most impactful measure still in play.

“In terms of double-digit emissions reduction, it was really just the clean heat standard, the Transportation and Climate Initiative and Advanced Clean Cars. A one-legged stool does not stand up,” said Jared Duval, a member of the Climate Council and executive director of the Energy Action Network, a group that closely tracks and analyzes emissions data in Vermont. 

Duval said he is “extremely concerned” about meeting the emissions reduction requirements, and does “not think we are anywhere near being on track for 2030.”

The rule’s forward movement was accompanied by a record-large transportation bill passed by the Legislature this year; it includes tens of millions of dollars to support electric vehicle programs and infrastructure expansion in the state. 

Though the state has a long way to go, said Ben Edgerly Walsh, climate and energy program director at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, the rule is a “really important piece of the puzzle.”

“If we were not part of this, if we chose to opt out after a couple of decades of being one of the states that has been on the leading edge of clean cars,” he said, “that would be basically saying we’re OK with fewer Vermonters having these options on dealer lots.”

Vermont has been implementing transportation regulations alongside California for several decades, O’Toole said. Some of the earlier regulations focused on things like carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. 

Now, Vermont is among 18 other states to follow California’s program, which recently incorporated a zero-emission vehicle component, O’Toole said. By 2035, all passenger cars and light-duty trucks delivered to the state from manufacturers must be zero-emission vehicles, she said, calling it “a really significant shift.”

“We’ve always regarded these programs to be technology-forcing for the auto manufacturers and so it requires the auto manufacturers to kind of make this technology shift to electrification, probably sooner than what would have happened had we not regulated them,” she said. 

The program would be phased in gradually. The state’s current zero-emission vehicle standards last until 2025, so the amended program would begin in 2026 and ramp up until full-scale implementation in 2035. 

This graph shows the pace with which Advanced Clean Cars II would be implemented. Courtesy of the Agency of Natural Resources

In the second of the suite of regulations, the state is looking to adopt a new regulatory program, called Advanced Clean Trucks, that has been in place in California. It requires manufacturers of medium and heavy-duty trucks to begin phasing in electric vehicles over a certain period of time, O’Toole said. Currently, there isn’t a plan that would require manufacturers to deliver only electric medium and heavy-duty vehicles. 

The third rule would control the emissions that come from fossil fuel-burning medium and heavy trucks, and the fourth would require manufacturers to make the same vehicles more efficient. 

State officials aim to file the suite of rules with the Secretary of State’s Office on July 15, at which point it would be opened for public comment. State officials plan to hold a series of public meetings starting in September. 

That public comment could be particularly important as the state weighs inequities that could be relevant to the rule. Those who can afford new vehicles may be exposed to less pollution from cars, while those who buy from the used market may tend to acquire gasoline-powered cars. 

Manufacturers will earn “environmental justice credits” if they invest in or help develop programs that help low-income or disproportionately impacted communities acquire more efficient transportation. 

For example, one encourages keeping used electric vehicles in the state to promote a robust used EV market. Manufacturers could also invest in MileageSmart, a program run through Capstone Community Action that helps people tap into electric vehicle incentives. 

Robb Kidd, conservation program manager of Vermont’s chapter of the Sierra Club, supports Vermont’s planned adoption of Advanced Clean Cars II, and said equity concerns are high on his mind. 

He emphasized the importance of incentives for electric vehicles and programs that advance that cause, like MileageSmart and the Replace Your Ride program.

But record high fuel prices give a timely example of why it’s even more important to transition to electric vehicles, he said. 

“We need to make sure that our lower and underserved communities are not left behind in facing higher costs on their fuel, which actually they’re already facing right now,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the month of upcoming public hearings.

VTDigger's environment reporter.