On September 7, 2022

Vermont’s opportunity to ensure accessible electric vehicles — for consumers and climate

Editor’s note: This commentary is a joint op-ed from Vermont Natural Resources Council, Vermont Conservation Voters, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, Conservation Law Foundation, Vermont Chapter of the Sierra Club and Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

When it comes to getting where we all need to go — which often needs to be by car or truck in rural Vermont — the options for cleaner, more affordable vehicles are good. They are also about to get better with the advancement of two new, innovative programs.

Here’s how: Vermont first adopted a set of rules requiring auto manufacturers to provide Vermonters with more efficient cars than federal standards required in the early 2000s. Since then, this program, known as Advanced Clean Cars, has been a critical tool for manufacturer innovation, improved access to cleaner vehicles and emissions reduction. To meet climate commitments and the growing public demand for cleaner vehicles, two new programs are now available to deliver new requirements for zero-emission car sales — the Advanced Clean Cars II (ACCII) rule and an Advanced Clean Trucks rule (ACT) — and Vermont is poised to join both by December of this year.

Building on the success of the initial standard, ACCII would require auto manufacturers to meet stricter emissions requirements and to steadily increase the annual percentage of new electric vehicles (EVs) available for sale in Vermont, eventually reaching 100% of all new cars and light trucks sold by 2035. The Clean Trucks rule would similarly require auto manufacturers to sell an increasing percentage of zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty trucks between model years 2026 and 2035.

These rules will set the foundation for Vermonters and Vermont businesses to access more clean, cost-effective vehicles — putting the onus on the manufacturers to deliver these options every year. ACCII and ACT won’t require consumers or fleet owners to immediately transition to zero-emission vehicles, nor will anyone be coming for your older gas- or diesel-powered vehicle. These programs will simply support and enforce a gradual market transition to allow for clean vehicles to become increasingly available over the next decade and beyond.

With gas prices yet again making it hard for Vermonters to make ends meet, more Vermonters are clamoring for more affordable, efficient and electric vehicles, and the rules are essential to meeting that growing demand. And, given that transportation in Vermont accounts for about 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions we collectively generate in this state, the rules are also fundamental to substantially reducing climate pollution and creating a more resilient, equitable and clean transportation system in our rural state.

We must continue to diversify Vermont’s transportation sector through investments in options such as expanded public transit, ride-sharing, and improved bike and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure to give Vermonters non-vehicular options to get where they need to go. At the same time, for people who must drive, these rules will ensure cleaner, more affordable electric vehicles are accessible to all who want them in the coming years. This program will help ensure that cleaner vehicles are available — and with an equity component embedded in the ACCII program design, there is an opportunity to deliver more clean vehicles to those who need them most.

In short: These programs will provide needed benefits to people’s pocketbooks — and the planet. Recent research from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that the total lifetime emissions from an electric vehicle are 50% less than those from a comparable vehicle equipped with a gasoline or diesel engine, and that “driving the average EV in the United States produces global warming emissions equal to a gasoline vehicle that gets 91 miles per gallon.” In Vermont, with an electric grid cleaner than the national average, EVs will produce even greater benefits — and these EVs will only get cleaner to drive as we build out more renewable energy.

We also must ensure that these options are financially within reach for everyone. Drive Electric Vermont research shows that even though consumers may pay a bit more upfront for an EV, all told, EV owners can save roughly $1,500 per year or more. But despite these overall savings, the initial cost of obtaining an EV can be a major barrier preventing the transition to using one, so it is essential that Vermont continues expanding incentives for EV purchasing and leasing.

Fortunately, new programs in the state and a recent infusion of federal funds are prioritizing incentives to support lower-income and historically overburdened Vermonters to access and afford this investment. Last year, the Legislature appropriated approximately $20 million for statewide EV incentives.

Throughout the month of September, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources will be hosting a series of public engagement events around the state where folks can learn about the benefits and impacts of the rules, find information about existing programs and resources to support the transition to EVs, and importantly, participate in a discussion about what policies are needed to ensure all Vermonters can benefit.

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