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DNREC holds final town hall on proposed vehicle emissions rules

Photo courtesy: Tanger Outlets

Delaware’s Division of Natural Resources and Environmental Control held its final public workshop to review the state’s plans to adopt California’s zero emissions vehicle regulations.

Gov. John Carney announced plans in March to join more than a dozen other states in adopting California’s regulations for car manufacturers, which establish increasingly stringent standards for tailpipe emissions for new gas-powered cars and require that a growing percentage of new passenger vehicles sold in-state be electric.

The rule change proposed by DNREC would add references to California’s law to Delaware’s state code, mirroring California’s plan to require all that new passenger vehicles sold in-state be electric by 2035.

DNREC Division of Air Quality Administrator Valerie Gray told Thursday’s town hall Delaware is not currently on track to meet its goal of a 26 percent or more reduction in overall emissions by 2025.

“From Delaware’s greenhouse gas inventory, we see that state efforts have resulted in an overall emissions reduction of 18 percent, and our climate action plan further shows that Delaware has not met our emissions reduction target," she said.

Since passenger vehicles are Delaware’s largest single source of emissions, Gray underscored the proposed regulations could be the most efficient way to get the state on track to meet its target.

Even if the regulations are adopted, Delaware will be far from its goal of a zero- or low-emissions passenger vehicle fleet in 2035.

“Assuming the vehicles stay in the fleet for at least ten years," Gray noted, "we’re going to estimate that 70 percent of our on-road fleet by 2035 will still be fossil fuel-burning vehicles.”

Town halls held over the past six months revealed a broad array of critics of the proposed regulations, including those who argue DNREC doesn’t have the authority to restrict the sale of legal goods by private corporations and those who argue the state won’t be able to develop and maintain the charging infrastructure to support a growing electric vehicle fleet, particularly in the event of a natural disaster. Those critics include the Delaware Republican Party; on Tuesday, State Rep. Jesse Vanderwende (R-Bridgeville) argued on the party's blog that the state should wait for market forces and technological advancements to drive the transition to electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, supporters of the regulations also urged the state to speed its transition to alternative power sources for generating electricity to avoid shifting transportation emissions upstream to power plants. While Delaware's largest energy source remains natural gas, the larger grid subregion that covers Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and much of Maryland produces slightly less carbon dioxide per megawatt hour than the national average, largely because of the concentration of nuclear power plants in the region.

Parallel to the proposed vehicle emissions standards, Delaware's climate action plan released in 2021 also sets a goal of a 10 percent reduction overall vehicle miles travelled by Delawareans each year by 2030. Rural and suburban Delawareans drive more miles per year than the average rural or suburban American, and the state's broader transportation emissions goals hinge partially on providing residents with more alternatives to car travel — a goal left unaddressed during the final town hall.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.