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Delaware’s zero-emission vehicle regulation proposal faces pushback

An electric vehicle charging in Smyrna.
Delaware Public Media
The Green
An electric vehicle charging in Smyrna.

The State of Delaware is in the process of writing regulations to adopt California’s Advanced Clean Car II standards and phase out the sale of new small and medium gas-powered vehicles over the next 12 years.

But the plan faces substantial pushback. During the recently completed comment period, DNREC received thousands of comments – most opposed to the effort – and GOP lawmakers are pushing legislative options to derail it.

This week, contributor Jon Hurdle takes a closer look at the proposal and the contentious battle over it.

Contributor Jon Hurdle reports on Delaware’s zero-emission vehicle regulation proposal

For John McTaggart, Delaware’s plan to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035 is technically impractical, politically unacceptable, and doomed to miss its goal of reducing greenhouse gases.

“There is no way this mandate should go into effect,” wrote McTaggart, one of about 4,000 people who submitted comments in response to the state’s proposed adoption of California’s Advanced Clean Car II standards, which would phase out the sale of new small and medium gas-powered vehicles over the next 12 years. “This is all a big lie because the electric vehicles are not better for the environment. This feels way more like a control issue than anything. We deserve the right to choose, this is not going to save the world,” he said.

Amy Rickert also opposed the rule, arguing that stopping the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles after 2035 would be especially hard on people who live in rural areas. She said many people who live outside cities don’t have access to the chargers needed for electric vehicles and depend on gas-powered cars to run their daily lives.

“Governor Carney, please heed the voices of our rural communities, farmers and small businesses by rejecting ACC II,” she wrote. “We must not let California’s approach dictate Delaware’s transportation and economic future. Blindly following another state’s lead is not the way to do that.”

But Jay Cooperson, an architect from Wilmington, praised the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s plan, saying Delaware has a special responsibility to cut greenhouse gases because its low-lying topography makes it highly vulnerable to the sea-level rise caused by warming global temperatures.

“The failure to facilitate the change away from fossil fuels will harm every citizen, but most egregiously those of low income,” Cooperson wrote. He argued that the proposed regulation would not stop people continuing to use gas-powered cars.

And Ellen Lebowitz called for the rule to be adopted, arguing that it would halve greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector by 2040; reduce premature deaths and illnesses caused by air pollution; end dependence on volatile gas prices, and create jobs making EVs and their equipment.

“With every passing month, the scientific community's calls for action to curb greenhouse gas emissions are growing more urgent,” Lebowitz wrote. “Delaware's adoption of the ACC II rule will be the exact kind of action we need to clean up one of the dirtiest sources of pollution in the state. This will protect the health of our planet and the health of our people.”

“It’s a gradual, orderly transition already proceeding as required in Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, New York, and 11 more states on the same timeline."
Michael Globetti, DNREC spokesman

Starting in model year 2027, 43 percent of new small and medium-sized vehicles delivered to Delaware dealerships would have to run without carbon emissions, rising in annual increments to 100 percent starting in 2035, according to the proposed rule.

“It’s a gradual, orderly transition already proceeding as required in Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, New York, and 11 more states on the same timeline,” said DNREC spokesman Michael Globetti. “And it’s after many manufacturers such as Ford and General Motors have already pledged to phase out gas-powered and diesel vehicles in leading markets like the U.S. by 2035.”

GM aims to phase out the sale of all internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035, and Ford hopes that EVs will make up half its sales by 2030.

But many Delawareans don’t want the DNREC rule, based on public comments submitted to DNREC. State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown), told the Senate Environment, Energy and Transportation Committee on Wednesday that 93.5 percent of 4,799 comments submitted in response to the rule were opposed to it. Only 312 people, or 6.5 percent of the total, supported the rule, he said.

Even EV owners were opposed to the government requiring adoption, Pettyjohn said. “They love their electric vehicles but they said that’s not something that should be mandated on the people of Delaware.”

Despite his opposition to the rule, Pettyjohn said was “100 percent convinced” that EVs will eventually be widely adopted in Delaware, although that should be because the market responds to public demand, and not because government requires it by a certain time.

Committee chair State Sen. Stephanie Hansen (D-Middletown) questioned Pettyjohn’s assertion that EVs are often sitting unsold on dealers’ lots because of sluggish public demand. That claim, she said, was “180 degrees” different from her own experience, which indicates strong demand for the vehicles.

Pettyjohn sponsored Senate Bill 96, which would stop DNREC implementing the rule. He argued that most Delawareans don’t want electric vehicles; that the state doesn’t have the charging infrastructure, and that there is no need for a state “mandate” requiring their adoption.

The Democrat-controlled Senate committee, in keeping with its usual practice, did not immediately vote on the bill on Wednesday, but was due to decide later whether to support its “backer”. Still, it was unlikely to be released from the committee for a vote by the full Senate, said Matt Revel, a spokesman for the Senate Republican caucus.

“I do not anticipate enough committee members signing the bill backer for the bill to be released from committee,” Revel said.

DNREC Secretary Shawn Garvin spoke against Pettyjohn’s bill, and said the agency has the regulatory authority to implement the rule.

In the House, another bill, HB 123, would require the legislature to approve DNREC’s promulgation of the rule. That bill sponsored by House Minority Leader Michael Ramone, failed to get enough votes in the Democrat-controlled House Natural Resources and Energy Committee to be released.

Meanwhile, more evidence of public opposition to EVs came from the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national nonprofit that advocates for state adoption of the rule around the country. Kathy Harris, an analyst with the NRDC, said she found more resistance to the rule in Delaware than in any of the other 15 other states that have adopted the rule or are considering it.

Tanger Outlets
Delaware Public Media
An electric vehicle charging station in Rehoboth.

Harris attributed the opposition to “misinformation” about the rule promoted by interests related to the oil industry, and to the fact that, unlike other states, Delaware did not adopt an earlier phase of the California program.

“The level of misinformation and opposition that we’ve been seeing in the public is not nearly as strong as it is in Delaware,” she said. “I’m assuming that it is a strong anti-electrification campaign, likely stemming from oil interests.”

The misinformation, Harris said, is based on false ideas that the rule would stop drivers using gasoline-powered vehicles, or that there won’t be enough public charging stations to meet demand, and so new EVs won’t be usable.

“There are concerns that the regulations are going to take away everyone’s vehicles immediately, and that is not the case at all,” she said. Since most drivers buy used vehicles, and the rule only applies to new models, they will have the option of buying traditional cars for “many years to come,” she said.

In answer to fears that Delaware won’t have enough charging stations, Harris argued that most EV owners will have a charging capability in their own homes, simply through a domestic power outlet. But those who live in multi-unit buildings where home charging is not practical, or who regularly travel long distances, will be able to use public chargers.

According to DNREC, there are currently 148 locations in Delaware where drivers can charge their EVs, including 30 “fast” chargers. In January, the agency awarded grants to 13 businesses and one municipality to build another 14 fast-chargers in all three counties at sites including shopping centers, hotels and downtown locations. More charging stations will be built along highways with $15 million over five years as Delaware’s share of an EV charging program under the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

At a public hearing on the rule on April 26, Kyle Krall of DNREC’s Division of Air Quality said the plan would not stop people driving their current gas-powered cars, which will still represent some 70 percent of the state’s total vehicle fleet by 2035 even though new gas-powered models would no longer be sold after that model year.

“This program does not ban gasoline and diesel vehicles,” he said. “This proposal does not prohibit you from registering the gasoline or diesel vehicle which you currently own.” Exemptions would include off-road and heavy-duty vehicles like semi-trucks and farm equipment as well as emergency vehicles, he said.

And Harris of the NRDC told the hearing that the standard would keep money in the Delaware economy by ensuring that local dealers have a supply of EVs, allowing drivers to purchase the vehicles in-state rather than ordering from out of state.

“Adoption of the clean car standards is the only way to guarantee that auto manufacturers will bring the latest models of zero-emission vehicles to Delaware."
Kathy Harris, analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council

“Adoption of the clean car standards is the only way to guarantee that auto manufacturers will bring the latest models of zero-emission vehicles to Delaware,” she said.

At the public hearing, Larry Mayo of the Maryland-based Institute on the Constitution, argued that DNREC does not have the constitutional authority to require Delawareans to buy new zero-emission vehicles.

“What Delaware statute authorizes DNREC or the Secretary or the Governor to dictate commerce? You have authority to regulate commerce, but you cannot dictate to the auto dealers that they cannot sell a legal product,” he said. “I would say that this regulation is a violation of the state constitution.”

Willett Kempton, a University of Delaware professor who advocates for the transition to clean energy, dismissed concerns that there won’t be enough charging capacity when the new rule becomes fully effective. He predicted that gasoline-powered cars will be gradually retired over about 15 years after 2035, and electric capacity will simultaneously increase, as it did to meet growing demand for air conditioning between 1955 and 1980.

“All the regulatory, investment, and technical systems are set up to grow the grid as needed, and to fairly recoup the investment which will be needed over the next 25 years,” he said.

Following the end of the public-comment period on May 26, DNREC’s subject-matter experts will prepare a technical-response memo for the hearing officer, who will submit that plus her own report to Secretary Shawn Garvin as he considers adoption, Globetti said. Garvin will weigh the proposal along with the technical memo and public comment in his decision on whether to adopt the rule. The process will take “some time”, and there is no schedule attached to it, Globetti said.

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Jon has been reporting on environmental and other topics for Delaware Public Media since 2011. Stories range from sea-level rise and commercial composting to the rebuilding program at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and the University of Delaware’s aborted data center plan.