Maine declined to participate in a multistate effort to promote the adoption of zero-emission vehicles because the state lacks the resources to implement required components of the plan, a state official said Friday.
Representatives of eight states, including Vermont and Massachusetts, met Thursday in California to sign a pledge to get 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on roadways by 2025, in an attempt to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gases.
The memorandum of understanding drafted by the coalition promises that each state will promote the use of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles by adding more of them to government fleets, providing cash incentives for residents to buy them, developing shared standards for electric charging stations and adopting policies that make it easier to build and use charging stations.
The coalition includes every New England state except Maine and New Hampshire. The other six states that signed the agreement were California, Washington, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Gov. Paul LePage was one of 15 state governors invited to join the coalition, but he declined, according to Deb Markowitz, secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources.
“You should speak to the governor’s office to find out why they did not participate,” Markowitz said.
LePage’s office did not respond Friday to phone and email requests for comment, but state Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Jessamine Logan provided several reasons why the state opted out.
Logan said via email that Maine lacks the resources to implement some components of the plan.
“When the draft (memorandum of understanding) came to us it was sent with an action plan that was well beyond our ability to undertake it,” she said. “Maine is a rural state – we are geographically large and our population is spread out. … Plug-in infrastructure may make sense down the road for Maine when market conditions develop.”
According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, Maine has 14 public charging stations for electric vehicles. That’s fewer than in nearby states such as Vermont, which has 20 stations, and New Hampshire, which has 16 stations. By contrast, other rural states such as Montana and Wyoming have just one station each.
The state with the largest number of public charging stations is California, with 1,431 stations, followed by Texas with 509 stations, according to the data center.
Logan added that Maine is already participating in a number of regional organizations on efforts to reduce vehicle emissions and improve fuel efficiency.
“For example, we can improve natural gas access for our truck fleets and find additional efficiencies for other fleets,” she said.
Maine was invited to join the coalition because it is one of 15 states that have chosen to adopt strict air quality standards developed and passed initially in California. Maine adopted the standards in 2005.
Those standards require about 15 percent of new vehicles sold to be zero emission by 2025. According to Automotive News, an industry publication, a 15 percent market share for zero-emission vehicles in the participating eight states represents about 3 percent of the U.S. auto market.
California is the only state allowed to create its own vehicle emissions standards. Other states may adopt those standards, or go with the less-strict federal standards.
All of the 15 states that adhere to California standards were asked to sign the zero-emission vehicles pledge, Markowitz said.
Under terms of the zero-emission vehicles memorandum, the eight signatory states will establish a task force to expand the network of charging and fueling stations needed to make electric and hydrogen-fueled vehicles more attractive to consumers.
Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said the state should have signed the memorandum.
“Maine should be part of initiatives like this,” Voorhees said. “The fact is, electric vehicles are cleaner and they are cheaper to drive.”
Maine has had a complicated history with efforts to raise auto emissions standards: The state instituted a tough, first-in-the-nation program in the mid-1990s to reduce emissions by using testing sites to inspect vehicles, but rescinded it after testing hit several start-up problems, intense public criticism and even a petition drive intended to repeal it.
Motorists also objected to the increased cost of vehicle inspections.
Although data on the number of electric vehicles in Maine were not available, anecdotal evidence from car dealerships in the state indicate that consumer interest in purchasing electric vehicles is still low.
Bryan Lackee, sales representative at Darling’s Nissan in Bangor, said the dealership has only sold a handful of units of the Nissan Leaf, the company’s only zero-emissions vehicle.
“I’ve sold two myself as a salesperson,” he said.
Still, Lackee said he believes the market for such vehicles is poised to heat up in Maine.
Electric car owner Marc Lausier of Scarborough agreed.
Lausier, who purchased his Nissan Leaf in March 2012, said he has contacted LePage in hopes of persuading him of the benefits of zero-emission cars.
“About nine months ago I offered to let him test-drive the car,” but the governor declined, he said. “Unfortunately he’s just not an environmentalist.”
Lausier said that adding more charging stations in Maine likely would lead to faster adoption of electric cars, but he acknowledged that it’s a chicken-or-egg debate.
In the end, consumers will choose zero-emission vehicles when they are more affordable and convenient than gasoline-powered cars, he said.
One major step would be increasing their range on a single charge, Lausier said, something car companies already are working on. The Nissan Leaf can go about 75 miles on a single charge. Chevrolet’s Volt, a plug-in hybrid electric car, gets about 35 miles on a single charge, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“Ultimately it will be market forces that move people into buying them,” Lausier said.
Stephen Woods, president and CEO of TideSmart Global in Falmouth, which has a free public charging station for electric vehicles, said state officials could help grow the market for electric cars in Maine if they made it a priority.
“I think Maine needs a much stronger and clearer policy on how to approach electric vehicles,” said Woods, who is chairman of the Yarmouth Town Council and a former Democratic candidate for governor.
He said making Maine more conducive to zero-emission vehicle ownership will require cooperation among state and local governments and the private sector.
“Unfortunately, Maine has been a little slow to the party,” Woods said.
J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 207-791-6390 or: