Environmental groups are once again petitioning the state to adopt California’s clean vehicle emissions standards, which would require manufacturers to sell cleaner gas-powered vehicles and more electric vehicles to Maine customers.

The Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Council of Maine and Sierra Club say these rules would give Mainers cleaner air and a way to reverse climate change, save them money on gas and car repairs, and increase their access to in-demand zero-emission cars and trucks.

The vehicle market is electrifying on its own, but Maine shouldn’t wait, said NCRM’s Jack Shapiro.

“If Maine wants to hit its ambitious emission reductions goals, it needs to adopt this rule now, before it’s too late,” said Shapiro. “We need to jump into the EV market now, while the biggest federal climate law in history is making millions in rebates and incentives available.”

Shapiro was among those who presented the petitions, which were signed by 150 Mainers in late May, to the Board of Environmental Protection in Augusta on Thursday. The Department of Environmental Protection plans to hold public hearings on the proposed rules next month.

Maine law requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 1990 levels within the next decade and 80% by 2050. Yet Shapiro noted that Maine has not adopted any regulations or policies addressing the transportation sector, Maine’s largest emissions contributor.


The proposed rule would require increasing the number of new zero and near-zero emission cars and trucks sold in Maine, from 43% of all vehicles sold in 2027 to 82% of all vehicles sold in 2032. Electric vehicles make up about 6% of new car sales in Maine now.

More than half of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels come from tailpipe pollution emitted by gas-powered cars and trucks. Increasing access to zero-emission cars and trucks is necessary to hit climate targets set by Gov. Janet Mills, the petitioners claim.

“Maine has an incredible opportunity and responsibility to get cleaner cars, trucks, and buses on roads,” said Matthew Cannon of the Sierra Club. “Let’s get moving to address the outsized impact that transportation pollution has on the health and well-being of communities in Maine.”

Board members questioned whether Maine’s electrical grid could handle the electrification of so many new vehicles. Petitioners acknowledged the answer to that question is no, for now, and that it would be a challenge, but one that Maine would have until 2032 to figure out.

“It’s a left foot-right foot thing,” Shapiro said. “We can’t do it overnight, but one step at a time, we’ll get there. I mean, we have to, right? Or we’ll be mucking out our basements all the time, choking on smoke every summer, and paying out one huge insurance claim after another.”

The proposed rule would give manufacturers “environmental justice” credits for selling lower-priced electric vehicles, reselling electric vehicles at the end of their lease to dealerships that serve poor or frontline communities, and offering financial assistance to low-income buyers.


The environmental justice credits recognize that Mainers who live in low-income and minority communities are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and air pollution. They frequently live near highways and polluters, and thus often suffer the most severe impacts.

Replacing gas-powered trucks with electric will especially benefit those living near highways or warehouses. In 2020, medium- and heavy-duty trucks represented only 6% of the vehicles on the road but generated more than 55% of the toxic emissions from tailpipes.

“Burning gasoline releases greenhouse gases that worsen air quality, increasing the incidence and prevalence of respiratory illnesses, such as asthma,” said Rebecca Boulos, executive director of the Maine Public Health Association.

Vermont, Massachusetts and New York have already adopted California’s standards. Manufacturers tend to favor these states when it comes to deciding where to ship their limited zero-emissions inventory to avoid the possibility of paying a noncompliance fine, Shapiro said.

Maine considered adopting California’s emissions standards once before, in 2021, but didn’t move forward after commercial and business interests came out against them, claiming the state lacked the charging infrastructure to support it and the technology was unproven.

Mills has criticized California’s plan to eventually phase out the sale of all new gas-powered vehicles.

But Shapiro believes a lot has changed in the last two years, including public attitudes about the improved reliability and fuel and maintenance savings possible with electric vehicles, and the confidence that Maine is moving quickly to expand a statewide charging network.

In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed new vehicle emission standards that would reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 10 billion tons and ensure that two-thirds of new passenger cars sold in the U.S. are electric by 2032.

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