Commentary

John McClaughry: No gasoline-powered car ban until 2035

This commentary was written by John McClaughry, vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Relax, Vermonters. Nothing will prevent you from buying and registering your new gasoline- or diesel-powered sedan, SUV or light duty truck — until 2035.

Then, if the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Vermont Natural Resources Council, Conservation Law Foundation and their allies have their way, if you want to buy a new car or truck, you’ll have only the one choice of buying a California-compliant electric car.

In 1977, California, concerned about the persistent smog in the Los Angeles bowl caused by nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, ozone and other harmful tailpipe emissions, obtained a Clean Air Act waiver. It allowed the state to adopt more stringent emission rules than those required of the rest of the country. Vermont signed on as a “California state” in 1996.

California has now amended its rule to require all new cars and light duty trucks sold or registered in the state to be plug-in electric, or possibly fuel cell powered, by model year 2035.

In smog-free Vermont, the motivation for adopting the new California rule is to reduce tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide to meet the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020. The Scott administration is now moving to adopt a rule that conforms Vermont to the new California rule.

The evolution of this EV enthusiasm is interesting. A decade ago, the Vermont environmental machine demanded a sweeping carbon tax to price carbon fuel beyond the reach of ordinary consumers. But “carbon tax” became an alarming word to taxpayers, so the enviros replaced it with euphemisms such as “carbon pricing,” “cap and trade,” “cap and invest” and “Clean Heat Standard.”

Transportation currently accounts for forty percent of Vermont’s CO2 emissions. The transportation component of the emissions reduction campaign was called the Transportation and Climate Initiative. It was to be a ten-state agreement to impose a tax on upstream motor fuel suppliers to drive up the price of gasoline and diesel fuel — and rebate millions of dollars from the Transportation and Climate Initiative taxes to the states to underwrite a large menu of subsidies. It collapsed last fall when states started to bail out.     

The Vermont Climate Council is still keen on resurrecting the Transportation and Climate Initiative. But with carbon taxes politically unpopular, it and its enviro allies are pushing for state action to pay — rather than tax — motorists to quit using petroleum fuel. The favored way to pay them is to offer increasing subsidies to get them to trade in their gasoline-powered cars and buy electric vehicles they don’t much want and can’t otherwise afford. Since EVs are an upper-income product, the subsidies have to be greater and greater until even a low-income motorist can drive around in a new electric car or truck.

Where will Vermont get the millions of dollars to pay people to switch to EVs? With the Transportation and Climate Initiative unavailable to bring in the big bucks, and federal pandemic spending running out, Vermonters are going to have to pay for this.

This problem will neatly be solved — in 2035 — by adopting the California rule: stop paying people and just prohibit them from buying or registering new internal combustion cars, SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks, whether they like it or not.

As I’ve acknowledged since 2018, EVs have some attractive features: classy looks, quiet rides, avoiding motor fuel price volatility (although risking electric grid price increases), exemption from motor fuel taxes to pay for roads and bridges (for now), and jackrabbit acceleration (if that’s your thing).

There are plenty of EV concerns that will make unattainable the Climate Council’s “pathway” to replacing 164,000 petroleum vehicles with EVs on Vermont’s roads by 2030. Most auto and light truck consumers will continue to choose familiar internal combustion engine vehicles because of the EV’s higher cost, uncertain resale value, servicing bottlenecks, range anxiety, slow, crowded and dysfunctional public charging stations, fading battery performance in cold weather and hilly terrain, and if dependent on the power grid for charging, whether the power grid will be dependably available to charge a hundred thousand EVs when needed.

A foreshadowing of that latter problem occurred a month ago when California’s governor was touting its “all EV by 2035” rule, while the state’s power grid regulators, facing a serious threat of blackouts, were pleading with grid-dependent EV owners to stop charging their cars.

The 2035 deadline is far away, but I suspect a lot of Vermont motorists, after making their own choices for the past 120 years, really won’t like the idea of the state forcing them to choose what vehicles the state decrees, at the behest of clamoring enviro groups obsessed with arresting the menace of climate change. That’s especially so when eliminating internal combustion engine vehicles from Vermont will have no detectable effect whatsoever on arresting climate change.


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